published Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Hundreds of helping hands: Teenagers renovate Chattanooga area homes as part of World Changers

Titus Moody, Evan Platzer, Rachel Shirley, Juliana Gagliano, Nicholas Kelley and Kris Lloyd, from left, place rotten wood into a trash bin. The young World Changers volunteers removed and replaced a deck in a Harrison home.
Titus Moody, Evan Platzer, Rachel Shirley, Juliana Gagliano, Nicholas Kelley and Kris Lloyd, from left, place rotten wood into a trash bin. The young World Changers volunteers removed and replaced a deck in a Harrison home.
Photo by John Rawlston.
  • photo
    Nicholas Kelley digs a hole as Juliana Gagliano watches.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

Belinda Garner hadn't used the deck, which looks out over the shady backyard of her Lake Hills home, in two or three years.

It sagged in the middle and simply was too dangerous to walk on.

On Tuesday morning, at the hands of eager teenagers with garden tools, the redwood deck was torn down in a hurry. By Friday, a new, slightly larger deck will replace it. The home also will have two new doors, repaired steps and new paint.

And it won't cost her a dime.

Garner's home is one of 18 being renovated in the Chattanooga area by a group of 300 teenagers -- and adult supervisors from eight states -- who are associated with World Changers, an initiative of LifeWay Christian Resources.

"I appreciate it," the semi-retired homeowner says. "I think it's a wonderful program. I'm very glad they're here."

A different group of World Changers teenagers was in town last week, taking part in similar jobs. The current group arrived Sunday, began work Monday and will be finishing up by Friday.

While the students supply the labor, funding for supplies comes from the Chattanooga Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development.

The crew of 11 at Garner's home hailed from Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. High school and middle school students -- some 16,000 in more than 60 cities -- will pay an average of $250 this summer to engage in a week of hard work, sleep on hard church floors and associate with a bunch of strangers.

"I love the close feeling with everyone who believes as I believe, who thinks the same way," says Zach Pugh, 16, a rising high school junior from Madisonville, Ky., who is participating in his fifth year with World Changers. "And I love to help people for the grace of God."

In prior summers, he worked on projects in Clarksville, Tenn., Little Rock, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

"We just like to show our love and get them into what we do," says Pugh, munching on one of a handful of icy treats Garner passed around. "[The home owners] have always treated us with kindness and are thankful for what we do."

Juliana Gagliano 16, who was scraping gray paint off Garner's side steps, admits she's no renovation whiz, but she's happy to serve wherever she's needed.

"Construction-type stuff is not my thing," says the rising high school junior from Greensboro, N.C., "but anything I can do to spread the word of God. I want to be well-grounded."

Gagliano says her first morning on the job taught her perseverance, but she also marveled at the project's miracle of logistics that supplied transportation, water and portable restrooms where they were needed.

"It's the littlest things that help our time so we can give back to the residents of Chattanooga," she says.

Crew encourager Melissa Prow, 40, says her job is to provide a little cheerleading and a devotion for the crew. And although no one will ever mistake her for Bob the Builder, she says "the best way for me to encourage is to get in and help them."

Garner, 63, who has lived alone in the home for 19 years, heard about the World Changers project on the radio and applied months ago to Chattanooga's Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development to get on the list of homes to be renovated.

And although the work had just gotten started earlier this week, she could feel the possibilities.

"It looks better already," she says.

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@times freepress.com or 423-757-6497.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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