Renee Romack turned 13 in a strange city in a strange state, without a cake or a party.
The Muncie, Ind., girl celebrated her birthday this week painting the house of a stranger in Rock Hill for the sole reason that she wanted to help someone as part of the Baptist group World Changers.
Her birthday, she said, was “great.”
Great deeds and great days for strangers is what World Changers is all about.
For the 19th year, volunteers from around the country, many of them teens, came to Rock Hill this week to work on more than two dozen homes in need of repairs. World Changers coordinates more than 12,000 students in 90 cities and towns doing service projects that help people who need a hand get repairs done.
More than 270 of those volunteers are in Rock Hill this week, hammering and sawing and pounding. Thirteen local churches also are pitching in on the work, and are providing meals, transportation and more.
World Changers teams up locals from the host York Baptist Association with other churches to help in neighborhoods in Rock Hill and at the Catawba Indian Nation reservation east of town.
“World Changers and the young people who come here truly do change the world one house at a time,” said Mike Wallace, missions director for the York Baptist Association, who coordinates the yearly event each June. “When we say hands-on ministry, this is really hands-on.”
In the past two decades, World Changers has fixed up more than 200 houses in Rock Hill.
Charles Gill, whose 85-year-old father’s Fewell Street home in Rock Hill received a badly needed coat of paint and other repairs, was thrilled that young people would take the time and initiative to help.
“This is what truly is called giving and receiving a blessing,” Gill said. “These young people, some of them are from other states, but they came here to help my father be able to stay in his home.”
The volunteers are staying all week at Castle Heights Middle School, where classrooms have become bedrooms. They are not only volunteers, they pay at least $250 for the chance to bang roofing shingles into roofs, paint walls, strip floors and just plain getting all dirty and, well, stinky.
The work goes all day in 90-plus degree heat, followed by worship and fellowship events during the evening before everybody falls asleep in about three seconds.
The chance to help people is the true meaning of being a Christian, said Robyn Cornett, of Rock Hill’s Lakewood Baptist Church.
“Anything that any of us can do for another person can help,” she said.
Mike Jamison, 20, from Indiana, said his church youth group saw a chance to help people with World Changers and “jumped on it with both feet.”
“We are serving the community of God,” he said.
Among the many local volunteers this week are firefighters and other city workers. The homes were chosen by the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Division from among applications by people who qualified under income and other guidelines.
Many of the homeowners are senior citizens, including some who are disabled. All are low-income people who could not otherwise afford to fix their homes. At one house in Rock Hill’s College Downs neighborhood, the roof so badly needed repairs that the volunteers replaced not only the shingles, but part of the roof itself.
So on the roof a squadron of people – most strangers before this week – stood and knelt and hammered, with the 1989 hit “Love Shack” playing on a radio.
But this house was not a shack. It was a home where an elderly lady lives, and after this week, her roof will no longer leak. The volunteers, happily and with smiles, guided by people with building expertise, made sure that roof would last for years.
Doug Cannon, 25, a Rock Hill ambulance driver who took a week of unpaid leave to volunteer, put it this way in a shout that could be heard throughout the neighborhood:
“We are changing the world for Jesus, baby!”