By Ben Orcutt - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - Mildred Giles says the youths who are sprucing up her home as part of the Impact the Valley program are a gift from God.
"Yes it is, because you don't see a child come around every day to help some older person," Giles said Monday. "They're going to paint my living room today and give me a clean floor and put the stuff back and give [me] a nice, clean living room. I know that it will make me feel better that my home is kept up, you know."
Giles, 80, lives with two of her three grandchildren at 211 Midway Ave. in Front Royal. She has been confined to a wheelchair for the last two years and cannot walk. However, the former domestic worker's spirit is strong, and she enjoyed talking at length with the children who were working on her home.
The result of their labor, she said, will bring "a big smile to my face."
James Vernor, 12, and a number of other youths from Culpeper United Methodist Church, painted Giles' living room Monday.
"This is the first missions trip I've ever been on in my life, actually," Vernor said. "I think it'll be a really good experience for me."
Tori Steele, 11, another member of Culpeper United Methodist Church, was also eager to help out.
"I'm real excited to do it," she said.
Another volunteer painter, Rebecca McCray, 12, of Marlow Baptist Church, said that "helping people" makes her feel good.
The children participating in the Impact the Valley program come from Ashburn, Culpeper, Frederick County, Fredericksburg and Warren County, according to Steve Jennings, executive director of Berryville-based Teens Opposing Poverty.
"It's a weeklong mission, that's one of the several things that we do in the area," said Jennings, 54, of Frogtown. "We have 130 total volunteers, and the majority of them are youth. We probably have right around a hundred youth."
To help cover costs, the volunteers pay a registration fee, Jennings said.
"That covers the lodging and the food and then we raise funds from other sources for the materials," he said.
In addition to projects this week in Front Royal, Jennings said the youth will work on projects in Browntown, Clarke County, Strasburg and Winchester.
"When you have a week like this, with the challenges that you face, a lot of people -- young and the adults involved as well -- will sometimes have some actually life-changing turning points happen just through the things that come up and through their relationships with the families, and it really opens their eyes a lot," Jennings said. "So we go out to bless, but we end up blessed more than we bless others. That happens more often than not, I would say."
A full crew was working at Giles' home Monday, with parents even getting into the act. Janet Wilson, 39, who is in charge of youth ministries at Culpeper United Methodist Church, was joined by her daughters, Lauren, 12, and Sarah, 9.
"We will be staying here through Friday," Wilson said. "We will be spending the night at the KOA Camp Grounds. They have devotion in the morning and worship at night. All the meals are provided by Impact the Valley, and we have adults that are chaperones here with the kids."
The children's weeklong mission work isn't just about volunteering, Wilson said.
"They're going to get to know Mrs. Giles," Wilson said. "It's not just painting. It's not just putting the tarps down. It's getting to know who she is and connecting with her through the love of God. I feel like we were brought here to her to answer her prayer, her needs."
Larry Lawhon, 54, a youth lay leader at Marlow Heights Baptist Church, said that youths at his church start making plans to volunteer in the wintertime. Help With Housing screens and recommends the recipients of the volunteer work, Lawhon said.
Corey Dyke, 15, of Marlow Heights Baptist Church, is in charge of videotaping the work.
"We go around to each site and get some video, and afterwards we put it all together and get it ready for next year," he said. "I enjoy it, so it's fun."