Brian Polet was amazed when he and a group of teens drove into Marion, Indiana.
Habitat for Humanity supervisor Ed Costello with Sarah Slotsema, 17, of Grand Rapids, Mich.
“I hadn’t imagined how bad it was,” said Polet, who is the youth pastor at 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich. “I was struck by the urban blight. Factory after factory was shut down, parking lots were empty, roofs were caving in, yards were overgrown.”
Polet was part of the “Marion Project,” which brought 203 teens and 81 adult leaders from six states and two provinces to Indiana for five days in July to help revitalize the poverty-stricken city.
They erected two Habitat for Humanity homes, painted fences and houses, cleaned up neighborhoods, worked on landscaping, visited the elderly, and played with children at the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.
The effort was a sequel to last year’s Youth Unlimited convention, called Live It!, which was held in Marion.
“After all the interactions we had with the city last year, they said ‘Can’t you come back next year?’ and we said ‘Sure, we can do that,’” said Millie Hoekstra, events manager for Youth Unlimited, a non-denominational youth organization with strong ties to the Christian Reformed Church.
“[The Marion Project] opened my eyes to different cultures and how doing a little bit for someone can be a lot to them,” said Chantelle DeHaan, 16, from Bethel CRC in Sioux Center, Iowa. DeHaan’s team worked on landscaping at a bus stop and helped to paint a hotel.
“I loved the mixture of worship and service. . . . You get to see the effects of living out your faith,” said Kayla VandenBosch, 17, of LaGrave Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“You develop friendships and meet people that you wouldn’t normally hang out with in your own social life at home,” said Adrian Visser, 16, of Ingersoll (Ontario) CRC. Both Visser and VandenBosch helped to build the Habitat homes.
A Facebook post from the City of Marion praised the teens for their work in Marion: “They were humble, kind, giving, and showed us the power of faith in action—not words. We were honored that this fabulous group came to Marion, and hoped they inspired our community to serve."
Live It! 2013 will be held in Pittsburgh, Penn.