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'Project People' teens helping those in need

Project People workers, from the left, Jimmy Davis, Joe Zmikly, Matt Emerick, and John Rapanotti. photo by Kathy Galbraith (click for larger version)
July 27, 2011 - By Olivia Shumaker

Special Writer for The Review

Every once in a while students gather to do good deeds in the community, usually through a church group or school. Sometimes they tug on the heart and bring a sense of pride to the reader.

Project People is one such story.

For the past several years, high school members of the St. Joseph's youth ministry have joined Project People, a camp and volunteer program that helps refurbish and maintain homes for community members and organizations who, for whatever reason, are unable to do these projects themselves.

The program lasts for six days and wrapped on July 21. Seven projects lasted the duration of the program and a few smaller worksites took a day to complete. Aside from refurbishing private homes, students also worked at Crossroads for Youth , a camp for at-risk teens, and Banbury Cross and Oates Therapeutic Horseback Riding centers.

The 50 students from high schools, including Oxford, Lake Orion, Brother Rice, Notre Dame Prep and others, stay at Subiaco Retreat House on the grounds of the St. Benedictine Monastery in Oxford Township. Facilitators assist students when necessary and teach them skills needed, whether it is how to roof a cabin, redo a deck, or paint a bedroom.

Sites are found through Love Inc. and word of mouth, and the project is funded entirely through teen registration fees and donations. After working at the sites during the day, the evening is dedicated to reflection and prayer.

"It's amazing how the fire and spirit of Project People spread," said Kathy Galbraith, director and alumni of Project People.

Participants of Project People painted, roofed, redecked, finished a basement, plus tackled a wide variety of other jobs. They even created a beach at one lakefront home after clearing seaweed from the water. Still, the point of Project People is not entirely about the work.

"This is not called Project Paint-a-Deck," said Galbraith. "It's called Project People because it's about the people and the relationships."

Galbraith explained Project People is about relationships. It's about how awed the clients were at how a group of teenage, more fortunate strangers were more than willing to help them in four days of 90-degree heat. It's about how awed the volunteers were at the clients' thankfulness and kindness, how overjoyed a client was when participants planted flowers around her deck. She said it's about how delighted the children of a client were when a group of teenagers completely transformed their rooms, and how thrilled the participants were to see the reaction, added the director.

This year Project People received their first returning alumni. The project allows only high school participants and alumni cannot become facilitators until after they graduate from college.

"You kind of learn who your friends are who will be there for always," said first-year participant Elizabeth Wilkins, who will be a sophomore at Oxford High School.

On the last full day of the project, the staff held a traditional thanks giving dinner for the participants, clients and their families, to show what work had been done and thank everyone for their role in the project. A slide show of participants at various work sites ran while Galbraith, facilitators and clients spoke about the experience of Project People.

"I never knew there was such a huge gathering of loving, caring Christian people," said one homeowner. Another homeowner was in tears seeing the refurbished and finished deck on her house for the first time in pictures, which was the last job site to be finished. Workers from the site received a round of cheers after arriving an hour and a half late to the thanks giving feast, making sure that the project was properly finished before cleanup the next day.

"Don't think twice. Just do it," said Lake Orion High School senior John Rapanotti, who returned for his fourth year with Project People. "It's such a great experience. Even if you have doubts. Any doubts, put them aside." Rapanotti went on to admit that when his mom signed him up for Project People four years ago, he was less than enthusiastic. Now, he admits, "Mom knows best," having met some of his best friends through Project People.

"There's always the experience with the clients. There's always a story that pulls on your heartstrings," Rapanotti said. "It's great to see the clients, how appreciative they are."

Project People considers this year a success, bringing together 50 students and many more community members, building a better community one site at a time.

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