By CRISTIN REECE
Palestine was the target of an invading army last week – an army of helping hands and happy hearts.
First United Methodist Church-Palestine served as the rendezvous point, HQ and bivouac for a Texas Conference group of the U.M. ARMY, as 77 Christian volunteers – hailing from eight East Texas cities – formed teams to repair, maintain and improve residences in and around Palestine.
“They’ve just been wonderful,” said Palestine resident Andrea Mims. “They’ve all worked so hard and been so joyful. I am truly, truly blessed – not just because they helped work on my house, but because I got the chance to get to know them.”
U.M. ARMY is an acronym for United Methodist Action Reach-Out Mission by Youth, according to the service’s website, www.umarmy.org, and its mission – “to provide Christ-centered quality youth work camps that serve people in need and promote spiritual growth and leadership development in youth.”
The group of five who worked on Mims’ home included Alyssa Graham of Tyler, Hannah Sanders of Humble, Seth McGlaun of Athens and Aaron Metoyer of Porter.
They painted the exterior of the house on South Jackson Street, built and installed new window screens and repaired the back door – projects Mims admitted were tough to accomplish after her mother, Ernestine Mims, became ill and passed away.
“Ms. Mims was awesome though,” said Metoyer, a member of Friendship United Methodist in Porter. “She came out and helped scrape paint and stuff. That was pretty cool.”
Group leader, and the lone adult group member Laney Smith of Madisonville, said her team was great.
“It’s been just amazing,” she said. “I don’t have much construction background but everyone has really stepped up in leading this project and growing their faith.”
Athens FUMC member McGlaun, a veteran who’s participated in the U.M. ARMY program four times before, said with a shrug and a laugh, “Ain’t nothin’ but a thang. I’ve always worked outside during summer and we all like to help.”
One of the best aspects of participating in the program, at least according to ARMY rookie Graham, is meeting new friends.
“This is my first year to do this and I just love meeting so many new people,” the Pollard United Methodist Church-Tyler member said.
Fellow recruit and Atascocita FUMC member Sanders agreed, but with one caveat, “It was really cool to get to use the power tools – the big boy toys!”
U.M. ARMY began in 1979 when 36 youth and adults from Houston area churches decided instead of traveling to Tennessee to do mission work, they’d preempt exorbitant fuel costs, long lines at the gas stations and other travel concerns and do the same kind of work at home.
John Branch, a director with the group in Palestine, said he’s be participating for more than 20 years in the U.M. ARMY, and said each group invests time and talents into things like interior and exterior painting and repairs; small construction jobs like wheelchair ramps and installing hand railing on porches and stairways; yard work; and junk and trash removal for people who, for whatever reason, can’t otherwise get those jobs done.
“The neatest thing about this program,” Branch said, “is we have a group of young people who might never otherwise get the chance to do work like this, learning and doing for others.
“They’re building their faith, their confidence, their skills and learning how to be good leaders within their church and community. Some teens from the very first camp I participated in have even become directors.”
The local church works with both camp and city officials to garner clients and make sure the scope of potential projects meets city code.
“The city has always been extremely good about working with us,” Branch said. “We’ve been to Palestine seven or eight times before.
“And clients are never difficult to find. We, unfortunately, usually run out of time way before we run out of projects. And everyone here is so appreciative and friendly.”
Richard Luna, another of the camp’s directors, added, “It’s cool to see how the community responds to us, too. We don’t use our clients facilities while we’re on the job. We instead use the public facilities at a nearby store and many times, when they learn what the group is doing, they’ll donate ice or drinks or something to help us out. It’s awesome. This is a great area.”
Both directors commented that it seemed the work their youth were doing was also inspiring others in the same neighborhood to get out and start a few “honey-do” projects of their own.
“Everywhere we go, once people in the area find out what’s going on, it motivates others in the neighborhood to mow or clean up or whatever too,” Luna said. “
Contact U.M. ARMY Fund Development Manager Scott Atnip at 281-728-4593 to donate to the program.