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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Impact Your Town, Impact Your Life

  I spent the day yesterday working on a community project called "Impact Massillon 2016."  The town of Massillon was founded in the 1700s by a New Englander sheep farmer who was looking for a more temperate climate for his frail wife.  It was named after French clergyman Jean Baptiste Massillon.  It's a small working class town on the Tuscarawas River which grew into a thriving wheat trading city in the early 1800s when rivers and canals were the main routes of transporting goods.   During the first part of the 20th century many European immigrants came here to work in the local steel mills.  Now it's a middle class city of about 30,000, known mainly for it's high school football tradition.  (Ever hear of the Massillon Tigers?  How about Paul Brown?  He grew up and started his coaching career here.)
    Impact Massillon is a yearly project when the local churches combine efforts to spruce up a run down neighborhood in the city.  The leadership team decides what neighborhood will be the target of the effort, probably based on condition, need, and proximity of nearby parking for a large group of people. The churches sign up, and each church is assigned a house or houses to work on based on the number and level of difficulty they sign up for.  The homeowners must also sign up to participate.
   The churches are responsible for buying their own materials and some of the local merchants offer discounts for the project.  The churches recruit their work crews and the planning begins.  Volunteers and home owners alike sign waivers releasing the project from liability in case of accident or injury.  In order to increase the sense of community and decrease a sense of competition between churches, everyone wears the same project t-shirt on Impact Day.  The churches are encouraged to purchase t-shirts for the residents too in order to make them feel included
    When work day arrives, the street is blocked off to outside traffic.  Hundreds of people arrive early in the morning. The sound of hammers, saws, and power tools fills the air.  Dumpsters are placed at strategic locations for construction waste, and bobcats buzz up and down the streets, delivering mulch and carrying away yard waste, rocks, broken concrete, and dirt.
   At lunch time everyone takes a break.  The residents are encouraged to join the work teams for lunch, and a brief Bible study is held in order to emphasize the reason for the project:  We are doing this to show that God's love is for everyone. We are our brother's keeper.  We are meant to follow the commandment "Love thy neighbor" in our own cities in true action, not just in words.
   Then it's back to work. The projects range from "easy", which would be picking up refuse, redoing landscaping, planting some new plants, and spreading mulch, to "difficult" which could be rebuilding a porch, painting an entire house, or building a retaining wall.  Some crews finish their work in a few hours, others take several days.
  We had a "medium" project which involved some major yard work, cutting down lots of weeds, mowing grass, trimming trees, porch repair on 3 porches, painting 3 porches, removal of concrete steps, building 2 flower beds, and planting shrubbery. It took a crew of 15 (including 11 adults and 4 teenagers) about 8 hours to finish, with the help from 5 or 6 high school boys from a neighboring church.  I am especially proud of our young people who worked tirelessly without complaint.  I think these types of projects are invaluable in teaching altruism and volunteerism to young people.  Our residents, who are renters, did not interact with us too much but the homeowner, who is handicapped and not able to do the work himself,  joined us for lunch.
    It was an awesome experience. We accomplished much in just a few hours.  When help was needed, folks from other crews offered advice and manpower.  Most of all, a sense of community was formed.  It is my hope that the residents of that neighborhood have a renewed sense of being loved and cared for by this community.  Billy Graham's latest DVD was passed out as a witness to the reason behind the work.  I was a little hesitant, a little doubtful, a little wary to become involved in this project, but I am now glad to say that I participated in "Impact Massillon 2016" and am looking forward to doing it again next year.  "Impact Massillon" impacts lives.