Niko Touloumes was planning on using some of his summer break to do a service project, but he never thought the project would change his perspective on those in need.
Touloumes was one of 18 youth from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Christian Church in Pittsburgh who participated in the June Appalachia service trip, a ministry of FOCUS North America. The group of middle school and high school students were joined by six adult leaders.
The goal of these short term ministry trips is to build a sense of service and community by providing an opportunity for church groups to travel together, work together, serve together and grow together. Projects include home repair, landscaping, and various domestic projects for the poor living in the heart of the Appalachian region. In some parts of the Appalachian region of NC where the FOCUS NA teams serve there is an almost 20% unemployment rate.
“I was expecting to come down and help people, not necessarily interact with them,” Touloumes said. “But I came here and found out why they’re in these situations.”
The teens and their adult leaders worked hard and always had a great attitude as they worked on graveling a driveway, painting a garage, removing a rotting deck, painting the interior of a house, moving heavy furniture and various landscaping projects.
The working poor families served by these groups are always very grateful for the help, Niko Petrogeorge, FOCUS North America ministry team intern, said.
“We painted the inside of an elderly couple’s home,” Petrogeorge said. “Mr. Upright was very appreciative of our work and wanted to help us.
We got him started on something he wouldn’t have been able to do on his own and provided the resources and materials for the project.”
The group ended its time on their service trip withprayer at the Quiet Reflections Retreat Center nearby lead by Fr. John Touloumes.
Petrogeorge said Fr. John Touloumes, priest at Holy Trinity and leader on the trip, already wants to bring a group back next summer to serve again.
The work done for needy families and the work done in the hearts of those who serve is always a welcome benefit.
“I feel like being on this mission trip has helped me grow as an Orthodox Christian,” said Georgia Gagianas, another teen participant on the trip. “There were times when things didn’t go as planned, but we realized that this trip wasn’t about us and we just needed to be patient and do what was necessary to help the people we came to serve.”