High schoolers in Texas are spending their summer providing free home maintenance for people who can’t take care of their repairs themselves. The teens are part of a program called UM ARMY, which stands for “United Methodist Action Reach-Out Mission by Youth.”
“It’s important to me to help people and make sure that their lives are good and they’re being able to do stuff,” Makenzee MacComb told KETK News. MacComb is a junior in high school, and her group has been in East Texas for the past few weeks. They have most recently served in Kilgore and Longview and are going to Henderson next.
Team leader Sydney Reagan told KETK that some of the projects they’ve completed include building a wheelchair ramp and installing a handicapped accessible shower. Not only does the group get to meet the needs of the people they’re serving, but, says Reagan, “We get to meet them and talk with them, and it’s just a relational and a service kind of thing.”
UM ARMY Background
UM ARMY has existed since 1979 and serves those who cannot help themselves, such as the elderly, disabled, and those with financial limitations. The website says the organization’s purpose is “To provide Christ-centered missions that serve people in need and promote spiritual growth and leadership development in youth and young adults.” The ministry has multiple mission programs, with around 5,000 people working on 2,000 projects annually. Besides Texas, right now UM ARMY primarily operates in the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country. Students pay fees to participate, which is how they are able to serve communities for free. For example, the cost to join a week-long Florida mission this past June was $295.
When groups travel to a certain area to do a service project, they are usually hosted by local churches, which house and feed them while they are there. In addition to constructing wheelchair ramps and installing showers, home repair tasks can include building porches, repairing leaky roofs, doing yard work, and painting. Churches and social service organizations refer those in need to UM ARMY, which takes on projects based on who has the greatest need. Also, other churches of any denomination or size can join in local UM ARMY assignments.
While the focus of UM ARMY is providing a service to people in need, the program also emphasizes the relational side of the mission. The website says, “Our programs provide [young people] the opportunity to impact the world around them and the encouragement to build relationships with neighbors in need, new friends and positive adult role models. Participants realize the power of God’s love as they mature into strong Christian leaders.”
High school senior Coby Balli told KETK that he values being able to contribute his time and energy, instead of just giving to people financially. And Reagan affirmed the relational side of the mission, saying, “All these wheelchair ramps are all over the state now and so it’s really cool that more people are mobile and more people have more dignity.”