Alternative break keeps teens close to home
A group of teenagers from Hope Lutheran Church got firsthand experience in home restoration when they traveled over spring break to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The girls gave back to the town, which had once been so welcoming to them, by repairing homes ravaged by floodwaters in the summer of 2008.
The group set out last month for Cedar Rapids to spend three days working on homes, said Jennifer Mesiarik, trip organizer.
The connection to Cedar Rapids began when the girls were in middle school at Hope Lutheran School.
Each December, teens from Trinity Lutheran School in Cedar Rapids travel to Shawnee to participate in Hope’s basketball tournament. Late in the season the Hope squad travels to Cedar Rapids to participate in Trinity’s tournament, Mesiarik said.
Erica Brand, Shawnee Mission Northwest senior, regularly traveled to the tournaments when she attended Hope Lutheran.
“We had a general connection to the town,” she said. “It’s good to go back and give to the community that we had a connection with. People don’t realize how much help they really need.”
Mesiarik arranged for the group to volunteer through the Community Recovery Center, operated by AmeriCorps.
For three days the teens spent time putting up drywall, painting, mudding the homes and a variety of other repairs.
“We got to do the whole spectrum of work to the inside of the houses,” Erica said. “We were working on two different sites in Cedar Rapids, we were just kind of mixed in with other AmeriCorps volunteers.”
Mesiarik was able to arrange for the group to stay at the Bethany Lutheran Church during the trip.
Erica said the trip opened her eyes to the work that could be done so relatively close to Shawnee.
“I think part of it is that it’s closer to home and a lot of people don’t realize a lot of work can be done in places that aren’t far from where we live,” she said. “I didn’t realize the extent of the damage or the things they still need.
“We heard about the floods, but you don’t see how much it effects people until you go there and see it,” she said. “There were blocks and blocks of houses that still haven’t been touched yet. It’s hard to think of the people that have lived without a home for two years. It was just really unexpected.”
Although Cedar Rapids is in another state, Erica realized how people close to home could use help in difficult times.
“I know there are a lot of organizations that help out in our area,” she said. “There are places like the Salvation Army that can always use help.”
There are a lot of places here that you can contact and they will send you somewhere to help.”