PLAINWELL, Mich. – Even though school is no longer in session at Plainwell Middle School, that doesn’t mean the building is empty. This week, the school will play host to over 300 teens from West Michigan and across the country - all there to complete a very noble task.
They’re participants in TeenServe, a program that provides labor assistance to local residents in need – free of charge. For the next few days, these willing participants will eat and sleep in the school by night, and by day provide free repairs like painting, weatherizing, building wheelchair ramps, and other interior and exterior repairs for local residents who might otherwise not be able to afford it.
TeenServe is an international nonprofit Christian organization, but this is the first time a camp will be hosted in the Lower Peninsula. It all started in 2006 when the Plainwell chapter’s now-publicity director, Danene Gless, attended a camp hosted in Missouri. After nine years of planning and preparation, now, Plainwell has a program of its own.
Their work focuses on those in dire need – the handicapped, the elderly and the low income. In all, the program received over 150 homeowners reaching out for assistance. As of last count, they will find themselves able to assist at least 55 of those homes throughout the week. And the work won’t stop there. After the kids and counselors have vacated the school, local volunteers partnered with TeenServe will lend their own time to help the remaining applicants who put in for help.
“There are people in this state helping other people out in their home state as well as other states coming together in Plainwell to help with the need - because there is a lot of need,” said Roddy MacIvor, a staff member with TeenServe.
“It kind of helps people realize, hey, you don’t have to go to Africa, or India or South America - yes those places have a lot of need and we should go and help them - but right here in America there’s a lot of need in your own backyard.
“It’s hard to fathom that people so close to you living in substandard conditions,” said Gless, who was instrumental in getting Teen Serve here to West Michigan.
"I think they come away with a sense of value, and love and a sense that it is so important to step outside of yourself."
The materials are donated by local businesses, like the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity. Through their Brush of Kindness program, over 535 gallons of paint was donated to Teen Serve. And on top of donations, other materials are paid for by a weekly tuition paid for by non other than the participants themselves.
“These kids are actually paying money to come to a camp where they work,” said MacIvor.
“There’s a lot of commitment in this and the kids that are here - they want to be here. They know what this is for. And it’s to put a smile on somebody’s face, to show the love go God in a practical way.”
After the work is done around 3 p.m., the participants will come back, clean up for dinner, and participate in music programs and a speaker series.
Since its inception in 1999, TeenServe at large has completed work on nearly 1,700 homes totaling $190,000 in free repairs to those in need across the United States.