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Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 : 6:30 a.m.

Ann Arbor youth improve urban farm, two houses in Muskegon on service trip

By Darcy Crain-Polly

Students poured out from school doors on June 17 anticipating their first week of freedom from exams and schedules and waking up early. For 21 local youth, however, that first week was not spent in lazy mornings and meeting friends at Veterans Memoria pool.

Instead, they packed into vans destined across the state to Muskegon to serve a community very much in need. The average income for families in Muskegon is $19,000 per year, a budget that wouldn't allow most of us to pay for our housing, let alone food. The areas in need ranged from an urban farm to two homes in much need of repair.

At the urban farm, McLaughlin Grows, youth built a shed that would be used for washing, dividing, and organizing produce to be given to the participants who helped cultivate the crops.

At one of the homes, the bedroom the couple slept in was damaged. with a leaky roof that they did not have the funds to replace. Not surprisingly, the moisture crept in the home, destroyed ceilings and walls, and mold grew, creating a health hazard to the family inside.

Youth learned how to demo walls, identify black mold, reinstall drywall and re-test the home for health safety. They mudded, sanded, painted and trimmed. Another group tore out a broken kitchen sink and replaced it, learning more hands-on plumbing than they had ever imagined.

I have led or been a student on these trips for the past 14 years. In those 14 years, we always plan a "free" day. It is one day off from work where you get to go white water rafting or to an amusement park and just have fun together.

In my 14 years, I have never had a group deny the offer. This 2011 Mission Trip group, when offered a free day at an amusement park, decided instead to work the morning shift and just enjoy Lake Michigan in the afternoon.

I had worried about attendance and motivation on this trip, because it was the most local trip we had ever done. Most groups travel at least eight hours away to serve for the week. Muskegon didn't have flash or the appeal of a desired destination or a fun road trip. And yet, our students were more than happy to simply serve.

Ann Arbor was well represented in Muskegon during that first week off from school, and I am so proud of youth who chose serving as the way to spend their first week of freedom.

Darcy Crain-Polly is the associate minister at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor. She can be reached directly via email.