Teens repair homes, beautify parks for service project

Reagan Covalt and Madison Scott are no strangers to volunteer work.

The two teens from Edmond, Okla., have worked in soup kitchens, tutored inner-city children and sung Christmas carols at nursing homes. But Tuesday, they had a different agenda: spreading mulch in John Downey’s flower bed in west Wichita.

They are part of a group of 201 teens taking part in the sixth annual Work Camp Wichita, put on by Northside Church of Christ. Twelve church youth groups from Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri come together each year to paint houses and do yardwork for Wichitans who are physically or financially unable to do so. They also clean up graffiti at local parks.

The sound of shovels scraping against concrete mixed with the scratch of steel-bristled brushes scraping old paint off Downey’s house while alternative Christian rock played from a smartphone’s speakers. Downey, 67, owns the home the teens were helping to repair on Tuesday.

He brought some of his own tools out to the backyard, where one group was painting his deck while another collected stray branches.

“I’ve lived here 22 years,” Downey said. “We raised our girls in this house.”

He and his wife attend Northside Church of Christ, near 45th Street North and Meridian. Tuesday afternoon, while the teens worked on the house, Downey’s wife, Annie, was at the church helping to prepare their meals.

Downey said he used to own a manufacturing company, but that when the housing market crashed, his business suffered and he had to close.

“That’s why this place is in such bad repair,” Downey said.

Randy Cochran, 52, is one of the leaders who brought his church’s youth group from Edmond to this year’s work camp. His youngest daughter is also on the trip, but on Tuesday morning she was working at a different site. The various youth groups are broken up, and teens are placed on work teams with teens they don’t know.

“The fun thing about kids is, you tell them, ‘Hey, want to hop on a bus and go help somebody?’ and they say, ‘Sure!’ Most adults aren’t like that,” Cochran said.

Wesley Duncan, 18, of Topeka, sat on the back of a trailer during one of the group’s water breaks. He said he came to the work camp two years ago but couldn’t attend last year because of a conflict with a national speech and rhetoric competition.

“This is fulfilling,” he said. “When people are struggling in a community, we can all come together and help out.”