COAL TOWNSHIP - More than 300 youth and adult campers converged on Shamokin Area Middle/High School, ready to serve the area and God through manual labor.

Sunday was arrival day for those taking part in the Group Cares work camp program, a week-long mission trip that will help make minor repairs to 56 project sites selected for assistance.

"There is a real need in this town for the work we will be doing," said camp director Kim Sawyer. "Everyone here has heard the call for this mission and we hope that we can not only provide some good to this area, but to the campers doing the work with us this week."

A parking lot near the school showed many different state license plates, ranging on Maine to New Hampshire, Georgia to Rhode Island, and, Sawyer reports, only one group from Pennsylvania.

"I'm from Mifflinburg and brought up the idea to the youth group I work with, but they wanted to go out of state, so they traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio," the program leader said.

For the next five days, teams of five to six people will be working at their individual projects in the area, doing light painting, carpentry, cleanups and other projects. The key to Group Cares comes in the pairings of team members.

"Except in cases of youth groups wanting to stay together, no one group member is paired with someone from their groups," Sawyer said. "We are matching people up for their individual strengths, so that there are balanced teams."

It's a mission that the Group Cares organization has been a part for over 30 years. The group was founded in 1976 in Loveland, Colo., when church youth groups were asked to help rebuild homes following a flood. Today, the organization sponsors youth camps in 42 areas across the country. The theme of this year's camp is "What do you stand for?"

Lacey Fowler, 21, of Avenel, N.J., made the 147-mile trip to Shamokin with her youth group. Each camper pays $451 for the privilege of making a difference.

"I've never been on a mission trip before, and when we learned about this one, we all thought it was a great opportunity to help and grow," she said.

Fowler hopes what they do in town will benefit the community.

"We had a person that went on a trip like this a year ago, and this was a person that never really spoke before," she said. "He is now a team player and even became the leader of the pack. All of that was accomplished while doing the Lord's work and serving the world."

Sawyer said everyone is encouraged to make the community better, not only at the homes they are fixing, but by supporting small businesses in town and a special canned food drive.

"We have a small pile of food on the stage now," host Dan Fuller told campers during Sunday's opening program. "It will be great to watch it grow to be donated to a local food pantry, knowing that your kindness and impact will be felt long after we leave the area."

After an evening program, the campers retired to their rooms for group devotions and lights out at 11 p.m. for the next day's activities, including meeting the people they would be doing the work for, and starting on their projects.

"Everyone here could be doing something different with their summer, either hanging out with friends or going to the pool or beach, but they are here, supporting this community in so many ways. It's a great feeling," Sawyer said.