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Youth group takes homeless to heart

MOOERS Days after returning from their trip to New York City to work with the homeless, the youth and leaders of Mooers Youth Caf_re still struck by the experience. Speaking in front of the Mooers United Methodist Church congregation on the day of Epiphany, the participants recalled their encounters with fervor. Some of the stories we heard broke my heart, shared Hannah Laporte. I was humbled to see so many people who need help that cant always be provided. The youth group departed the evening of Dec. 28, arriving at their temporary home at Holy Trinity Church in Manhattan in the wee hours of Saturday morning. During their four-day stay, the 10 youths and their advisors lived like the homeless, sharing their bathrooms, serving their meals, and even sleeping on cots in a homeless shelter. And just like the homeless, the group also had to do without showers for the duration of the trip. For the kids, not showering was worse than thinking about what they would have to eat, reflected advisor Lisa DeLong. Its the opposite for the homeless. The group had been considering various trip ideas, when part-time Mooers\NYC resident Sue Chandler proposed the group come to Holy Trinity Church. Out of its basement, the church runs a shelter for 12 men, plus a thrift shop and Saturday night community dinner for 80-90. Living in the shelter proved to be a challenge. Because the room was used for different events throughout the day, the group had to be up and have their cots put away before 7 a.m. Although there were not any homeless actually staying in the shelter while the group was there, the church was opened during the day so the homeless could come in to use the bathrooms. We decided to give a BIG cleaning to [the bathrooms], advisor Wendy Kingsbury wrote in a trip report posted on popular social networking Web site Facebook. The kids were scared and nervous at first, said Mrs. DeLong. Some people were intimidating. But others were so grateful, they were actually thanking us and wishing us a happy New Yearthey were so concerned about us. We all started to realize that these are people. For participant Jerika Manning and many others, the story of one woman, Mary, was particularly wrenching. According to Mrs. DeLong and Mrs. Kingsbury, Mary was a college-educated former teacher who had lost her position due to No Child Left Behind. A run of bad luck had forced her to live in one shelter after another since 2003. We had a 45-minute conversation before I realized she was one of the homeless, and not one of the volunteers, said Mrs. DeLong. She was always offering to help us. I had no clue she was homeless, recalled Jereka. She was always positive. In addition to volunteering, the group donated more than 100 pairs of tube socks to the shelter. They also observed a meal at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the second largest such operation in the United States, serving nearly 1,200 hot meals every weekday night. There was also time for some sightseeing The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ground Zero, Central Park, Canal Street but that wasnt the focus of the trip. Despite being within walking distance of Times Square and the fireworks in Central Park, the group decided to forgo New Years Eve festivities in order to clean the shelters kitchen. I didnt realize how much [this trip] would affect all our lives, said Mrs. DeLong. There are so many things we could do now. To the youth who are now wondering what they can do in Mooers, she added, One act at a time. The group is investigating new ways they can help with the hungry and homeless. As a start, the youth group has issued a new challenge: to collect 1,000 items of non-perishable food for the Mooers Food Pantry by the end of January. I hope we will never forget what we learned, concluded Mrs. DeLong.

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