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Teens, adults serve elderly and disabled for a week in Gainesville
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Carleigh Odell, 13, holds a board as Ricky Smith marks a measurement Friday morning at a Gainesville Aid ramp project on Cooley Drive. The group builds wheelchair ramps, mow lawns, make home repairs, and provide other services for the elderly and disabled.

For one week each summer for seven years, Jacob Frier committed himself to helping others.

He accomplished that through the Gainesville Aid Project, a nonprofit organization that completes various service projects for the elderly and disabled.

But this year, Frier was concerned he could not join the workforce.

“I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to come back this year, because I now live in Nashville, Tenn., and I go to Vanderbilt (University),” he said before adding he plans to participate for as long as he can.

Started as a service project by Antioch United Methodist Church in 1980, GAP brings church groups together to complete tasks ranging from yard work and cleaning out garages to pressure washing homes to building ramps. This year, the group will even help move a woman move from Cleveland to Gainesville.

Groups consist of high school students and adults from about five area churches this year, GAP Director Ken Parker said.

“We kind of cater to those small, midsize churches where they will bring in maybe 20 kids and usually three of four adult drivers,” he said.

This year, the group consisted of 90 teenagers, plus 23 adult chaperones and drivers from churches in Gainesville, Buford and even Smyrna, Jefferson and Carnesville.

“We’re non denominational, but we do ask that the kids be rising seventh-graders,” Parker said. “But other than that there’s no qualifications. Obviously they need to have a heart for service.”

Once the participants descend on Gainesville, they fan out across the city to complete their projects. This year, the various teens were tasked to accomplish 37 service projects this week.

During the next GAP week from June 21-25, a new set of 90 students will tackle 37 more projects.

“We try everything,” said Lee Hudson, the worksite coordinator for GAP. “There’s hardly anything we don’t try except roofs and installing windows. These kids are fearless.”

But before the youth and adults set out for the day and all the work ahead Thursday morning, GAP served them a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausage and grits.

“We learned a long time ago (that) if you’re going to work them, you’ve got to feed them,” Hudson said as the students gobbled down their breakfast at Antioch United Methodist Church.

After breakfast, the teens split into groups and went their separate ways to buy supplies for the various projects. Parker explained donations allow the groups to purchase tools and supplies for the day.

“We get donations from individuals, (and) sometimes we’ll get donations from corporations, like grant money,” he said. “Being that we don’t have any paid staff, everything that gets donated goes back out to the clients or for tools.”

The students pay a registration fee, which supplies their T-shirt and food for the week.

The individuals the students and adults help during GAP week are filtered to the organization through places such as the Disability Resource Center, Legacy Link and the hospital. Then Hudson contacts them to see about their needs.

“I go visit them (the clients) starting about a month before GAP,” she said. “We see every client personally before we ever send the students out.”

Hudson said for some projects, it may take the group three days to finish.

But that’s not a problem for the students, especially those who are a little more experienced.

“Some of these kids started as 12-year-olds,” Hudson said.

Frier is one example. The 19-year-old is participating for the eighth year in a row.

He described the time as being part of a “family atmosphere.”

“From that moment you step on, everyone welcomes you into this like big, warm, loving family, and then we, as that family, get to go out into the community and spread that love to everyone,” he said.

His favorite part is meeting the people for whom he works.

“It’s just getting to go out and really be the hands and feet of Jesus and bring that love and get to know these people who are struggling or just need the genuine connection that we can bring,” he said.

Chris Lewis, an 18-year-old who is returning for his seventh year with GAP but serving as a staff member this time, feels the same.

“I’ve always had a heart for missions,” he said. “It’s something special. There’s people in need in my own community, and so it makes a big difference participating in my own community.”

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