SHAMOKIN - Hard work, devotion to God, building relationships and coal region hospitality have been prevalent this week throughout the area while 330 youth and adult campers from across the country repaired 56 homes.

Volunteers from the Group Cares work camp program, who arrived Sunday, will complete their week-long mission trip today, but their stay here won't soon be forgotten.

Maggie Jasper, of 1333 W. Mulberry St., Coal Township, was one of those beneficiaries. She said members of the work crew who painted a fence railing, the kitchen ceiling, living and dining room ceilings and walls and foundation at her home have been an "inspiration."

"I'm so grateful to everyone who made this possible," she said. "The adult leaders and teens deserve a lot of credit. They've really enjoyed their work. Despite being from different churches and not knowing each other, they've worked well together. My home looks beautiful."

Jasper, who is on disability, lives with her 72-year-old husband, Joseph Sr., and their son, Joseph Jr.

"There's no way we could do this work ourselves or afford to pay someone to do it," Jasper said.

The Rev. Eric Redard, 46, of York, Maine, who was among several laborers at Jasper's house, described his experience working in the Shamokin area as "great."

Redard, who serves as interim associate minister at First Parish United Church of Christ, has been involved in community church work for 20 years and has taken about a dozen mission trips.

"I love working with the kids from different churches around the nation and reaching out to help others," he said. "It's a lot of fun. This teaches us that the mission is about building relationships and not just charity."

Nice, grateful

Julia Kingsbury, 16, of Middletown, Md., who was among Redard's work group, is enjoying her first mission trip.

"I never heard of this town and I just thought it would be cool to help people out by fixing their properties," she said. "Everyone I've been in contact with around here has been nice and are very grateful for the help we provide."

Holly Skrzyniarz, 33, of Cheshire, Conn., who served as an adult leader for five teens working at the residence of Tom and Ginny Yost, 46 N. Seventh St., Shamokin, has been involved with Group Cares for seven years; this was her fifth mission trip.

"I'm here because I enjoy helping people," she said. "It's nice to see houses in communities being repaired and everyone working together."

Skrzyniarz's work group painted the back porch of the Yost home earlier in the week and was installing new wood decking on the front porch Thursday afternoon. "We weren't planning on replacing the entire front porch, but we discovered that the joists were rotten so we decided to tear it apart."

Skrzyniarz, who participated in a mission trip to Mifflinburg three years ago, said neighbors have provided tools, machinery and advice to the work crew during the week. "It's been like a block party since we got here. Everyone is willing to help us out," she said.

Lars Lauersen, 16, of York, Maine, who is on his second mission, stated, "I heard about the trips in my church so I got involved because I enjoy helping people, especially those less fortunate. I always like to build things so I thought I would share my skills."

Katelyn Thompson, 16, of Damascus, Md., who worked with Lauersen at the Yost residence, has been involved with mission work for three years. She said, "This is a great way to live your faith and the people here have been very friendly."

Tom Yost, who has lived in his home since 1983, said, "I'm so thankful for their help. They not only are good workers, but their very cordial."

'Just awesome'

Maureen Forbes, of 1015 E. Webster St., Shamokin, also expressed her appreciation to the campers who painted the outside of her three-story home.

"They take my breath away," she said. "They are just awesome. We do everything together, including lunch and devotions. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. They've made my dreams come true."

Forbes has lived in her home for 13 years with her three sons, Michael, 29, Kevin, 25, and James, 21, and daughter, Brianna, 12. Another son, Ronnie, died in 2002 at the age of 20.

"There's no way I could afford to get this work done," she said.

Forbes said the adult and teen campers have become part of her family.

Pat Talluri, a group leader from Grace Moravian Church near Winston Salem, N.C., has been involved with mission work for seven years and was assigned to the nine teens working at Forbes' house.

"We've had a great week," she said. "The weather has been perfect. The kids have really worked well together. They talk like they've known each other for years."

Talluri and another adult leader, Tony Brenna, of St. Christopher Catholic Church in York, Maine, praised the hospitality displayed by coal region residents.

"The people here have been amazing," Brenna said. "They really appreciate what we are doing."

Camper Kayla Fowler, 18, of Avenel, N.J., stated, "This has been an amazing time for us. I did one other mission in Sutton, N.H., and I was really excited about coming here. This is more than a community project for us. The residents here are close knit and Maureen and her family are very sweet. Maureen is a strong woman who has been through a lot and I'm just so glad we can help people like her."

Her crew worker, P.J. Haberek, 19, of Hope Valley, R.I., has completed seven mission trips. "This has been a different experience than the others," he said. "The people here are extremely friendly and welcomed us with open arms. I'd love to come back here on another mission."

Heading home Saturday

Camp director Kim Sawyer of Mifflinburg, who has been involved with Group Cares for 14 years, said the campers work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch break at noon. She said the campers, leaders and residents also get together for devotions.

"It's been a great week," Sawyer said. "We've had outstanding cooperation from everyone and I would like to especially commend Shamokin Area School District officials who allowed the campers and leaders to stay at the high school."

Sawyer said a closing ceremony will be held for mission participants tonight at the high school. Campers and leaders will head home Saturday morning.

Jeff Thompson of Loveland, Colo., director of Group Mission Trips who has been involved with the organization for 11 years, said, "Everyone seems to have had a phenomenal all-around experience. The work has certainly helped the community and the campers have been living their faith through their work. This experience was created to help people encounter Jesus not just through devotion. They are putting their faith into action."

Thompson said the interdenominational organization operates 40 work camps from Utah to Rhode Island.

Group Cares was founded in 1976 in Loveland, Colo., when church youth groups were asked to help rebuild homes following a flood. The theme of this year's camp is "What Do You Stand For?"