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Homeschoolers and Community Service-- the Hands and Feet Ministry, in central PA
Erika Norton homeschooled her four children through high school graduation with PHAA (Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency)-- that's 20 years of homeschooling! She wrote this article originally for our print publication, in fall of 2008 (issue #104), which focused on all the many ways that homeschoolers were finding to give back to their wider communities. Many of the ideas tie in well with Dr. Gary Welton's research on socialization of homeschoolers and their development as good and caring people. I hope this wonderful idea spreads to other homeschoolers! In the comments section, do share what *your* homeschooling family has done to encourage meaningful community service.
Serving as the Hands and Feet of Christ
The Hands and Feet Ministry is a group of mostly teens and some adults who make weekly visits to a high-rise income- based government -subsidized apartment building in Hershey, PA, called The Hershey Plaza.
This building is home to mostly widows, some couples, and the disabled. There are 200 apartments and everyone is attempting to live independently. This is where we come in. We visit for about an hour and offer to do anything that they are unable to do; clean the bathroom, wash the floors, vacuum, flip the bed mattress, wash windows, take out the trash, sweep the balcony, etc. This all sounds so simple, but it has had an amazing effect on both the elderly and the teens.
How did all this get started? Seven years ago as part of a home schooling co-op one of the teens, an eleventh grader, specifically asked for a ministry class. We were offering all sorts of fun and academic classes, but she remembered having ministry as a young child and asked again that we would provide a class for the older students.
I was designated to be the teacher and questioned her about any ideas that she might have. She said that her mom had been doing some cleaning at Hershey Plaza and she thought it would be a good place to go and help. I was able to make some contacts to offer our services. It was apparent as soon as we arrived that God had opened the door for a ministry to be born. One elderly lady shared that she had been fervently praying for someone to come and help. She remarked that God works in mysterious ways, but she had no idea that God would send a group of teenagers.
The first year was filled with unbelievable experiences. We met the most interesting elderly and disabled people. Some of the apartments were in desperate need of some good cleaning while others were spotless. The teens learned how to clean disgustingly dirty bathrooms and kitchens, how to carefully water plants, and also how to dust when you cannot even see any dust, and that when someone asks for help it is not always that they really need help, it could be that they are lonely and need a friend. We all learned about life through the eyes of the aging and those with disabilities, how to be respectful, and about how getting older or suffering with a disability is not always a pretty picture.
The residents immediately fell in love with the students and would say things like, “I look forward to when you come. It makes my week.” They would talk around and tell each other about us and by word of mouth we now have a list of names so lengthy that we cannot even begin to reach them all.
At one point we needed a name for this blossoming ministry so I asked the student who had proposed this whole amazing idea and she immediately said that we should call this project The Hands and Feet Ministry, meaning we are the hands and feet of Christ to our hurting world.
The students’ lives have been changed as well, as they have learned to step outside of the world of Ipods and cell phones and enter the slower-paced life of the elderly. And they love it- amazingly! We have continued this ministry and are now in our 7th year because they talk about it at home to their siblings and the younger students are asking to join us! The kids who have gone on to college come back and help out on their breaks and the ones who do college at home are planning their schedule to have Thursdays available for ministry. This is life-changing! Through serving the disadvantaged they have seen that there is a reward when you step outside your own world and help another person. They know it goes beyond the mere cleaning job. It’s an act of mercy and compassion. The students have mentioned how they have seen the face of Christ in those they minister to and that by serving the disadvantaged they are serving Christ. Somehow they have grasped that this act of love has eternal value.
I could write a book about all the lives we have touched, all the people we have met, the experiences…..the man we met in the elevator who had lost almost his entire family and his wife lay dying and the young junior high student who prayed that she would get better and she did! How we learned to know this couple and ended up singing at their funerals. And how this same student gave her a bouquet of flowers and wept when her husband died…….or the look on the face of a black woman when one student thought to take his saxophone and play for her and he reminded her of her deceased husband…….or the look on a student’s face when one old lady grabbed him and went for a hug and said that she had not been hugged for forty years and that it felt so good……or the paraplegic who said with tears in his eyes that we give him a reason to get up and shave in the morning…..
And I have learned as a mom in the final year of homeschooling, 20 years later and ready to graduate our son and work my way out of this daunting job, that there was way more than math, and spelling, and English grammar and literature and science to teach. Thankfully God stepped in and taught us moms how to really teach the important stuff and how to be humbled and see that learning goes way beyond the textbooks.
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