Teen volunteers head to Moorhead to repair elders’ homes

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Some 100 teen-age volunteers from all over the U.S. will be arriving in Moorhead in June to repair and upgrade the homes of older adults, veterans and people with disabilities – a biennial tradition sponsored by the Lakes and Prairies Community Action Program of Clay and Wilkin counties.

The summer work camp has been a tradition in this part of Minnesota since 2003. CAPLP, headquartered in Moorhead, has alternated years with the West Central Minnesota Communities Action, based in Elbow Lake. 2021 was West Central’s year, with church youth groups heading to Alexandria.

The Group Workcamp Home Repair Project solicits youthful volunteers from around the country to tackle the repairs as a summer mission trip. This year’s roster hasn’t been announced yet, but in 2018, teams came by bus, van and jet from Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Oklahoma.

Moorhead’s school system is partnering with the community action agency in this year’s campaign, according to CAPLP economic empowerment director Robin Christianson. “The kiddos will be sleeping on air mattresses and cots in empty schoolrooms at Horizon Middle School,” she says. “They’ll eat their meals in the school cafeteria and have recreation and group sessions in the gym.”

During the day, each team – composed of teens from a variety of destinations – will head out to one of the 10 to 12 homes that have been chosen this year. Applicants were invited to submit their names and needs through many local social programs as well as CAPLP’s website. While Moorhead is at the center, applications have also come from towns within 30 miles, including most of the smaller cities in the county.

“It’s such a great program,” Christianson says. “The goal is to help older adults, veterans and those with disabilities remain in their homes. Some of the repairs may be just out of reach for them in terms of both supplies and the work involved.” The teams take on projects that the young crews are able to complete within five days from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., often painting, exterior repairs and building wheelchair ramps.

Increasing prices have pushed home repairs even further out of reach of the homeowners. The estimated cost to repair each home, Robin says, is between $800 and $1,000. Donations help cover those costs. “This year we were awarded a $1,000 gift by the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation,” Robin notes. The money will go toward work materials including paint, lumber, railing, skirting and basics like screws and nails.

“My favorite part is hearing from the homeowners at the end of the program,” the CAPLP director says. “Their eyes just light up. They’ve formed relationships with the kids who worked at their houses for the week, and they’re so grateful for the help.

“This program is literally building community.”

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