The U.M. Army (United Methodist Action Reach-out Mission) has returned to Center to continue their good works in repairing homes, and providing living solutions for those in need that are in low income situations.
The army that is in Center is made up of youth from Ore City, Bridge City, and Spring.
Frank Chambers is one of the supervisors over the group, and he provided some insight into the activities of the army during their time in Center.
“There are several camps going on right now, they start in the first week of June and go until the first week of August each year,” said Chambers.”We have one adult with the kids. Teams are made up of four - five youth, and the adults are responsible for driving them and giving them some guidance on what to do. The kids are responsible for doing the work basically.”
There are 71 army members in Center this week including 37 youth, 31 adults, and three college students. They are all working at separate sites to help improve the living situations of Center residents whose homes are in need of repair. We visited several of the sites on Monday with Diane Smith at the wheel, and Julie Graham as safety advisor. The army has safety advisor/monitors to insure that activities at the sites are within set requirements to keep everyone safe, and to provide assistance in the case of minor emergencies should any arise.
With many homes in need of repair, one may ask, how does the army choose who they will help? Area organizations provide guidance to assist the army members in helping those that are most in need.
“This year we got our references either through the community itself, or through the health service here in town,” said Chambers. “Some simple requirements are, you have to own the home, we don’t repair rental houses. The problem with repairing a rental house is two things - either the people move and leave it there, or the landlord sometimes says, ‘this house has been repaired, now it’s worth $50 more a month,’ so they price the person out of the house. Most of them are on a fixed income, and very low economic basis.”
The army members work on the homes for the whole day as they start around 9 a.m. and work through the day until 4 p.m. Each member has paid $250 to be a part of the army, and this fee helps to pay for the supplies that are used to work on the homes.
“We sleep on our church floors, we provide our own meals, we do our own cooking. The kids have to pack their lunches in the morning. We do a worship service in the morning to start the day, and we do one to end the day. We work most days from 9-4. We build wheelchair ramps, porches, steps, and handrails. We repair windows and screening, painting inside and out, sheetrock, and sometimes roofing,” said Chambers.
Each team first established what project they will be working on, and then the night before they work out a plan for that project.
“We have one adult with kids. Teams are made up of either four - five youth, and the adults are responsible for driving them and giving them some guidance on what to do. The kids are responsible for doing the work basically,” said Chambers.
Team leaders do not have to be contractors, they just need to be able to provide the needed guidance. This includes people like Eric Hartman of Orange, who is an insurance adjuster and has participated in the army for four years, and Mick Weidner who works for an electrical utility company, and has been a member for seven years. Years of service demonstrate that being a U.M. Army member is not a hardship, but a fulfilling experience.
“First year I came to U.M. Army, Frances Gates said ‘Frank you need to go to this, and bring your kids.’ I took Bryan [McDaniel], and two other boys in the back of a car, and what tools and luggage we could fit in the trunk. I’ve been 18 years, and [Bryan] has missed only one year. He went through four years of high school with it, and then college,” said Chambers. “Think about a high school kid who has driver’s ed., drill team camp, band camp, football camp, cheer leading camp, they’re trying to work, they’ve got to go see grandma, vacation with parents, summer school, all the list of things that they do and they take a week to do this. I’ve got one girl in my group who has been seven weeks in four years, she was at another camp last week.”
The U.M. Army is part of the Texas Conference, which covers a large portion of Texas, but U.M. Army now also has a United States branch. There currently are six camps working in the Texas Conference this week, and there will be 34 altogether working over the summer.