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Southern Baptists bring tears of joy to York County homes

Irma Leon has been crying all week.

Crying because the roof on her Sylvia Circle home is repaired. Crying because her front windows no longer leak. Crying because she knows she'll soon be able to plant chrysanthemums in her front yard.

Most of all, she cries because she is grateful for the work volunteers from across the nation have done this week as part of World Changers.

At least 280 students and adults arrived in York County on Sunday to repair roofs, build handicapped-accessible ramps and more for the Southern Baptist initiative that sends volunteers to repair homes for elderly, disabled and low-income residents.

Homeowners apply to be considered for the program, and city officials decide which homes will get the attention of the workers based on need and income.

This was Rock Hill's 17th year participating, with volunteers working on 24 homes - 21 in Rock Hill, one in Fort Mill and two on the Catawba Indian Reservation, doubling last year's figure.

Every day this week, Leon heard the bang on her roof, signifying the World Changers crew for her home had arrived.

That bang was "an inspiration" to the 43-year-old, telling her to wake up, get out of bed and begin her breathing treatments - therapy from the surgery she underwent a few weeks ago.

"It's amazing, humbling," she said, walking around her home and pointing out the garden she can't wait to work in again. "I can't believe the work they've done from beginning to end. It's been extraordinary, experiencing it day by day."

Sydney Coleman and Eli Leathers, both 15, traveled eagerly from Kosciusko, Miss., after hearing their friends talk about how much fun it had been.

During the week, they slept on air mattresses on floors at Northwestern High School: Leathers in an art classroom with murals on the ceiling; Coleman in a science classroom, which she said is convenient for brushing teeth because the room has sinks.

They helped remove and replace shingles on another Sylvia Circle home, taking breaks to talk to the homeowner.

"She lets us come in any time," Coleman said. "She brings us popsicles."

Leathers said the week has been an eye-opening experience.

"It's helped me see that not everyone has it as good as we do," he said. "Some people try hard but barely get by. We're blessed to have what we have."

"We're glad we can take a step up and turn it into helping people," Coleman said.

Kristi Howell, from California, has worked on homes with World Changers in the past. She was excited to help coordinate paperwork and worship times.

"Just to see students not only finish houses," she said, "but to experience God in different ways throughout the week - it's so much more than construction."

The theme for this year's World Changers was "Unless," referring to a passage from Psalms 127:1 that says unless the Lord builds the house, the work is in vain.

"Without Christ, it's just nails and a hammer," Howell said.

Leon can testify to that.

As work winded down on the home she bought five years ago, students presented her with a Bible and a World Changers sign they all had autographed. She said the improvements have inspired her to start a homeowner's association for Sylvia Circle to help bring her neighbors closer.

"I'm so very grateful," she said.

As she held a picture of the crew that worked on her house, she did what she'd been doing all week: She cried because she was happy.

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