New Castle News

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June 26, 2014

Virginia church youth group helps with Habitat project

NEW CASTLE — One sign might have been enough.

But the Rev. Brandon Johns of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Woodbridge, Va., got another indicator. It was enough to fully convince him having his youth group work on building a home with Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity was the right decision.

Johns, 29, was on home turf. The Laurel High School, Slippery Rock University and Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary graduate had booked the group to work at a Habitat project in Pittsburgh. But there was a mix-up in dates so the youth pastor made the call to Lawrence County and found out the local program was working on a three-bedroom ranch house on Madison Avenue in Mahoningtown.

Divine intervention? Sheree Cunningham, executive director of Lawrence County Habitat, said she believes God definitely put the Virginia visitors here for a reason.

The second dose of good fortune was finding out Thursday is Faith Night at PNC Park, so the whole group will attend a Pirates game.

Johns was excited to be able to show the 17 youth and five adults — including two pastors — the area where he grew up.

And the house where he cut grass when he was younger is next door to the Habitat location.

“God’s at work in all of this,” Johns said.

According to Cunningham, the youth group worked Tuesday and Wednesday at the house, which is the 22nd home the organization has built.

The church Johns’ family still attends, Good Shepherd Lutheran, provided lunch for the crew both days.

Trent Dean is an old pro. A soon-to-be sophomore at Northern Virginia Community College, Dean is on his third Habitat project, which is an annual tradition of St. Matthew’s.

“This helps develop a sense of community,” Dean pointed out. “It allows me to develop new skills I normally wouldn’t have a chance to be doing, it helps other people and it gives a chance to travel.”

Not knowing what will be added to the adventure also makes the trip interesting, he said.

Gillian Clark’s family is originally from Butler, so she has been in the area many times. But this is the first time the 15-year-old has volunteered with Habitat.

“It’s a lot about giving back and a good way to hang out with friends,” Clark said. She added the labor provides a sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing someone is being helped.

“This definitely worked out in our favor,” said Johns, who has a 1 1/2-year-old daughter with his wife, Christine. “I wanted to bring the kids to where I grew up and was familiar with.

“We try to have the youth group have a yearly event of living out our Christian identities. Faith isn’t just something we talk about.”

The young people did various work including pouring cement and helping install insulation and drywall.

“We’re so blessed to have the youth involved,” Cunningham said.

The group planned to work two days at a Habitat site in Beaver County before returning to Virginia.

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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