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Scout-based youth group provides helping hand

Dear Venture Crew,

My family and I wanted to let you know what a blessing you’ve been to us by working with us and AHFH.

For a while the building of our new home just seemed to drag – everyone it seemed had other commitments. I prayed, as I’m sure the rest of my family did, that the Lord “please do something!” A couple days later there were several young men showing up at the building site, with toll belts on, hammers in hand, ready to work. My husband and I were amazed! With the help of your crew and a few Habitat for Humanity members, four exterior walls were built and set in place in four hours. The following weekend most of the interior were up!

God and these young men restored my faith in our younger generation. a lot of kids today (adults also) are shallow and obsessed with other things that bring short term gratification. It’s good to see that not all people are that way.

I was also impressed how well they meshed and “fit in” with their elders. The crew was respectful and now respected by many.

My family and I want to thank you – you’re help will always be remembered.

God Bless You All!

S. L. Shellhammer

P.S. Wish there were more young adults like those in Venture Crew #630!

Kittanning Venture Crew 630 received this letter from the Shellhammers after the family moved into the new home in West Kittanning they acquired through Armstrong Habitat for Humanity in 2002.

The Shellhammers’ new home was the first project taken on by the youth organization after they organized in October of 2001.

Today, only two years later, the group is hard at work helping Armstrong Habitat for Humanity build a second house on North Grant Avenue in Kittanning.

Promoted the Boy Scouts of America, the Venturing program is geared toward teens and young adults ages 14 through 20. “The groups can be strictly boys, strictly girls, or co-ed,” Venture Crew advisor Paul Klucan said. “We decided to go with co-ed.”

Chartered by St. Paul’s Monastery, the Kittanning Venture Crew includes kids from school districts throughout the county.

“We have kids from Ford City, Elderton, Lenape Vo-Tech,” wife and fellow advisor Barb Klucan said. “We also have kids from Freeport and Kittanning. We encompass quite a wide area with our group. We have 19 active members.”

“The group is run by the kids,” Paul said. “They have their own president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and we act as advisors, offer guidance.”

The Venture Crew kids decide what type of project they want to work on and the adult volunteers help them to achieve their goal.

“We have an analogy that they’re the train and we’re the track,” Barb said. “They can go as far and as fast as they want and if they jump the track, we’re here to put them back on.”

When working on projects such as the Habitat for Humanity homes, the group relies on the skills of home repair/construction professionals, retired or otherwise, who volunteer their talents and knowledge for the projects.

“And some advisors just learn while they’re on the sites, willing to work,” Armstrong Habitat for Humanity secretary Sherry Schaffer said. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, “No one gets paid. It’s all volunteer.”

“A lot of people are under the impression that the houses are given to these families,” she said, “and that’s not true.”

“The volunteers work for free, but the materials and property, they have to pay for. They pay a mortgage like everyone else who buys a home, but with no interest.”

Habitat acts as the mortgager, purchasing the property and selling it directly to the family.

Often the recipients of a Habitat home, who worked with the volunteers on their own home, later will volunteer to work on other Habitat home projects.

“If they don’t help with the building, they help with the fund raising to help in some way to get another family started,” Sherry said.

The couple receiving the home in Kittanning, Mitch and Theresa Murray, are the parents of five children. “Tyler will be 11 in October, Andrew is eight, Elizabeth just turned six in August, Charles is five and Anthony is three,” Theresa said.

Mitch, Theresa and the kids currently live in a three-bedroom apartment on North Water Street in Kittanning. “It’s really crowded,” she said.

Their new home on North Grant will have four bedrooms, a master bedroom, a bedroom for their two older sons, one for their two younger sons and one for their daughter.

“The house we had been renting three years ago,” Theresa said, “the man who owned it let the bank foreclose on it, and they only gave us ten days to move. We had a brand new baby in the house.”

The couple found a pamphlet for the Habitat program at their church. “We went to a meeting and filled out an application,” she said. “It’s been two years since we put in our application.”

Habitat for Humanity already had the lot for the couple’s new home on North Grant Avenue. Now they have a house to go with it.

“Twenty years from now, when the kids come past this house they can say, ‘I helped build that home,'” Paul said.

The Venture Crew kids are involved in more than housing. “They do a Mother’s Day dinner at the monastery. We helped Ford City High School with their play sets,” he said. “There’s the Make-a-Wish Easter Egg hunts. We do the Belgian waffle booth at the Ford City Heritage Days festival as a fund raiser.”

Chris Gross has been with the Venture Crew since day one. Although he recently began attending college, Penn State in Dubois where he is working toward a degree in electrical engineering, Chris still participates in group activities, he says, “When I’m home on weekends and during the summer.”

In his free time, Chris has been helping work on the house in Kittanning, and before that he helped build the Shellhammer home in West Kittanning.

Working on the houses is his favorite Venture Crew activity. “It’s a good time when everybody gets out there and gets going,” he said. “It’s a good program to get kids outside, away from the Play Station.”

But all work and no play would make a boring crew, so the group also takes on challenges for fun. “It’s not all work. We go white water rafting, canoeing, camping,” Chris said.

Bonnie Waltenbaugh works as a volunteer advisor for the crew. Her youngest daughter Becky is not old enough to join, so they’ve made her an honorary member of the group. Sons Josh, 14, and Jim, 17, are members.

“It’s a lot of fun. I think it’s good to keep the kids busy, keep them active,” Bonnie said. “I was raised to do for others the way you would have them do for you. By helping with things like this, they’re doing exactly that.”

Working with the crew teaches the kids valuable life skills, Bonnie said. “Not only technical skills, such as how to use saws and hammers, but also how to work with other people.”

“We’re a nondenominational group,” Barb said. “We’re chartered out at St. Paul’s monastery, which is catholic, but most of our kids aren’t catholic.”

Although Venture Crew member Amanda Walker graduated Freeport Area High School earlier this year, she decided to put her plans for college on hold with hopes of staying involved with the Venture Crew. But she’s finding that working in 35 to 40 hours per week at Giant Eagle in Buffalo Township, Butler County, limits the time she has available to spend with the group.

Amanda found out about the Venture Crew program, she said, “Through surveys we filled out at school.”

Her first project with the group was a Make A Wish fund raising event held at the Monroeville Mall. “We went and solicited donations,” Amanda said. “It’s done over the radio.”

Some of the donations are used to fund the crew’s Easter Egg hunt and Easter baskets for the kids. “We go around and ask for donations for the make a wish kids,” she said. “We get everything we need, mostly toys or books, to fill the Easter baskets, and hide eggs for the hunts.”

“This past Easter was the second year we did it, and we had twice as many kids as the year before,” she continued.

Amanda also enjoys the social aspects of the group. “The parents who are involved are like surrogate parents,” she said, “and that makes it like one big family.”

Mary Gross, the crew’s assistant treasurer, has been with the group for about a year.

She enjoys working on the house, she said. “I helped put up the walls, put shingles on the roof.”

Mary learned what the Venture Crew program was all about from older sister Hannah who has been a member for more than a year.

“I just like helping people,” Mary said.


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