Group’s Mission Is Revitalization Nationwide

Neighborhood revitalization is a keystone in Jamestown’s development plan, and this week more than 300 helpers worked to bring that idea to fruition.

Group Mission Trips, an organization that was started in Loveland, Colo., in 1977 came to Jamestown this week to work on 50 different homes.

“In 1977 there was a massive flood that took out this whole area in Colorado,” said Kevra Finkelstein, director. “A group of people got together and decided to do something about it, and within a few weeks they had put together a project to help the residents in Loveland. From there it has developed across the country into what Group Mission Trips is today.

According to Finkelstein, the organization travels to several destinations every summer to work on different projects. There are currently 90 summer staff members who are all college students. These students serve as the managers of the trips, which include work camps like the trip to Jamestown, as well as community service mission trips and more. For work camps, the college students are sent out in crews of four, and prior to leaving, the students are trained for two weeks in Colorado on their specific job. The crews are then outfitted with a Penske truck and a car, and they travel across the United States to their designated location. The summer staff then spends roughly 10 days in each location in order to set up, work on the project and tear down.

“In Jamestown, we have 350 participants here this week, including adults and kids,” Finkelstein said. “There’s one adult for every five kids in each crew, and they basically come in as youth groups. On Sunday night, we break them up into their crews. We take the deck and shuffle it up so the kids aren’t with other kids from their youth group. On Monday, they meet the resident and get a job description, then they just go to it. We’re doing approximately 50 sites in Jamestown, and we have a lot of double crews on the sites because the jobs are so big.”

The program is funded through the Community Development Block Grant, and Vince DeJoy, director of development, is working in conjunction with Chautauqua Opportunities and the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, as well. This past spring, the Department of Development identified areas to target when these work camps came, primarily looking for owner-occupied homes with a low to moderate income and for elderly homeowners who couldn’t perform this type of maintenance on their own. The CDBG grant pays for the materials that are used in the projects, as well as some of the staffing, and in total, there is roughly $40,000 from the CDBG grant that has been put into this program.

Finkelstein said that co-sponsors like the Department of Development are a necessity for Group Mission Trips. The co-sponsor has to contact the organization and say that they want to bring a summer work camp to their city. Group Mission Trips then works with the co-sponsor to ensure everything is set up for the crews when they arrive at their destination.

“There are so many homes in Jamestown that are in need of just a little TLC – painting jobs, fixing some woodwork, a little bit of interior help – so this helps out the neighborhoods,” said DeJoy. “It’s been very beneficial to local businesses that sell the materials that they needed, too. It’s been a great program all-around, and the kids are having a great time. This is like a dream come true to have this many properties at once getting a face-lift. Projects like this stimulate the neighbors, too, who take note and will hopefully try to improve their properties as well.”

DeJoy noted that neighborhood revitalization has been one of his keystone projects since becoming director of development earlier this year, saying that he wants to continue trying to stabilize them and incentivize reinvestment in the area.

“Without the neighborhoods, the rest of the city just crumbles,” DeJoy said.

While the participants are here, they are using Washington Middle School as their base of operations. They start their day with a short praise service, they have crew devotions at the site, and then there is an additional evening program and youth group session at the end of each day.

“This is just absolutely amazing,” said Darien Holt, owner of one of the homes on which work is being done. “This isn’t something that someone in a one-income family can do. It’s a blessing to own your own home, but if you can’t take care of it, you run into a win-lose situation. The kids are so eager and this whole project has just been wonderful.”

For more information about Group Mission Trips, visit www.groupmissiontrips.com or call 800-385-4545.