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BY MARY GARRISON
Some 29 Golden Triangle residents are sleeping more at ease in their renovated homes thanks to a youth group volunteer initiative called the World Changers.
During the week of June 27, more than 300 student volunteers from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi descended on the Golden Triangle to lend assistance to low-income homeowners with pressing renovation needs as part of the World Changers annual project event. It was the first time the group had come to the area, though local fundraising chairman and leadership team member for the effort Bill East said he hoped it wouldn't be the last.
"We initiated it this year in hopes that we could execute it successfully, which we did, and it might become an annual affair," East said. " â€¦ I feel strongly that we'll have another in 2015."
The group, founded in 1990 in Tennessee as a youth-involved initiative of the Southern Baptist Association (SBA), seeks to bring college age students together to coordinate needed home projects such as repainting, roofing or constructing wheelchair ramps for those in need, according to Micah Birdsong, missions and communications specialist for the World Changers' South team. That group has grown to encompass projects in most U.S. states, including Alaska, as well as efforts in Puerto Rico, Birdsong said. This year, she said about 12,000 youth volunteers from a variety of Christian denominations had volunteered among 85 major projects.
"We work year-round setting up and organizing projects," Birdsong said. "Then teams of college students go out during the summer and lead volunteers to do the work."
Birdsong said those college students will coordinate with professional construction crew chiefs to oversee work and younger volunteers â€” mostly in grades 11-12, though the program is open for students sixth grade and older â€” in a week-long block, completing projects before moving on to another location. Cities or local SBA chapters submit an application for consideration, and if chosen, she said local homeowners must go through a similar process to obtain assistance.
"Since this was the first time (in the Golden Triangle) we weren't entirely certain how to select the homeowners," East said. "So we put an appeal out to churches that if they knew of a family in need to get them to apply. Then, the overall construction coordinator would visit each recommended site and make a decision based on need."
East said two primary factors were taken into account when determining homes: Financial need and critical structure need.
Additionally, Birdsong said work was determined based on what volunteer crews could feasibly complete within the week. Overall, she said seven homes in Clay County were identified and chosen for assistance at no cost to the homeowners.
Identification was only part of the process, however. The local leadership team began soliciting donations from local businesses and church organizations, in addition to applying for grants, East said. In all, he said the group hoped to obtain $1,000 per home project. Members successfully brought in about $28,000, he said, just shy of the $29,000 total goal.
"I sent out about 130 letters to businesses throughout the Golden Triangle myself," East said. "â€¦ We managed to get this out of the goodness of people's hearts. I think they wanted to reach outside the walls of their businesses and their churches and reach out to the people of the Golden Triangle."
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