'It's just how my momma raised me'
Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania. It's very near to the home of the Hershey's factory. And it's struggling not to go bankrupt.
Young people grades 7-12 from Roberts United Church of Christ traveled to Harrisburg for a service trip June 29 and returned July 7. They will be sharing their experiences in an event later in August.
"It's a real hands-on way for kids to see how fast the economy can change for people a lot like them," youth leader Carrie Fisher said.
Harrisburg fell into financial difficulty from what she described as bad political decisions, Fisher said. The city was funding a large project, and Fisher said some politicians had given the contract to friends without putting performance bonds in place.
"And when the project failed, the city didn't have any way to recoup the money and ended up putting out several million more dollars to replace it," Fisher said.
Seventeen-year-old Harley McDaniel and 16-year-old Annie Loewel helped renovate the house of an 85-year-old lady and her large family. Loewel said the woman had five generations in her family.
"It was very rewarding to fix up her porch and just help her get her house back to the way she wanted it," Loewel said.
"They thanked us by having a huge barbecue on the Fourth of July with us and their family," McDaniel said. "We got to really bond with the people and you got to hear how the economics really took a toll on them."
McDaniel said she learned a lot on the trip, but the biggest lesson she learned was about life.
"Bad things can happen to good people," McDaniel said, "and as sad as that is, you've just got to roll with it and do the best that you can with what you have."
What Loewel said she took away from the trip was about the strength of faith in God.
"Even if your life isn't the greatest, or you don't live in the best circumstances, everything is still OK," Loewel said, "and you can always stay strong, because God is with you."
While McDaniel said the barbecue was her favorite part of the trip, another enjoyable part of the trip was learning about her fellow "RUCCYs" (Roberts United Church of Christ Youth), something Fisher said she found very touching to see.
"It was amazing to see teenagers work so hard in 100-degree heat to do really good projects," Fisher said, "and good service for people that they didn't know and that they would never see again."
The trip wasn't all hard work and sweat though. Fisher said the group did make it to the Hershey factory, (but they skipped the amusement park). McDaniel said the entire city smelled like chocolate.
"It was very tempting," McDaniel said.
McDaniel, 17, has only one year left to go on a trip with the RUCCYs as a youth, but she said she plans to go on more trips in a supervisory fashion in the future.
"It's just how my momma raised me," McDaniel said. "She taught us that religion is very, very important, and give back, don't just take."
Fisher said the importance of service to others is what she hopes students will learn through the mission trips she leads.
"The goal is to bring that back home," Fisher said, "so that they learn how to serve and how to notice needs in their own community."
The Harrisburg trip was organized through Youth Works, a company that organizes mission trip programs. Fisher said Roberts UCC often does mission trips.
Roberts UCC will be holding a "Taste of Pennsylvania" event on Aug. 26 at Roberts UCC church to share their experiences from their trip with the community, and to share a meal featuring Pennsylvania cuisine.
For more information, visit robertsucc.org.