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April 11, 2010

By Susan Harrison-Wolffis

Muskegon Chronicle

On April 21, Jeff Glass and a crew from the Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Program at Community enCompass will pack their tool bags and head for Haiti, ready to lend a hand at an orphanage destroyed in January’s earthquake.

For a week, they’ll pound nails, erect walls, do whatever’s necessary to rebuild an orphanage run by the Soleil Foundation in Liogane, which is 12 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

“I don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing yet,”says Glass, who is a licensed residential builder and site supervisor for the program most people shorten to simply YEP!!

“All I know is we’ll go as a team, and we’ll work as a team.”

What makes YEP!’s mission trip different from other church and service organizations is that they have to leave a house they’re renovating at 1439 Terrace in inner-city Muskegon to volunteer in Haiti.

Two of the YEP! participants — Joshua Stewart, 22, and Jesus Ahumada, 21 — will accompany Glass on the trip to Haiti. Neither has ever been out of the United States.

“This is going to be such good training,” Glass says. “To see how others live … when we’re done, I know it’s going to change our lives.”

Two other construction workers will go on the trip, as well.

YEP! is a state-funded program for “at-risk”unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 22, run with the express purpose of teaching them both “life and work skills” on the job. It is a partnership of AmeriCorps, Goodwill Industries, the Department of Employment and Training and Community enCompass.

Community enCompass received a grant to buy properties in the McLaughlin Neighborhood to be renovated and eventually sold.

Currently seven young men and women are in the program.

“I can brag about these kids all day,” Glass says. “This is the coolest job I’ve ever had.”

Community enCompass — which was formed in 2007 when Bethany Housing Ministries and Sacred Suds merged — is a Christian community development organization for the McLaughlin Neighborhood in Muskegon.

The home at 1439 Terrace is YEP!’ s second project. Last year, the crew rehabilitated a house at 235 E. Larch where a family, who was once homeless, now lives.

The organization’s vision is for a “restored neighborhood” in the city — and now, as volunteers on a mission trip, in Haiti.

“Sometimes we have to help our neighbors wherever we can,”Glass says. “We’re completing the circle … giving back to others. That makes this so unique.”

Volunteers have held a series of fundraisers to make the $4,500 necessary to get the five-member crew to Haiti. Glass says they are within $1,000 of making their goal.

“Originally, I was going to go and just help out myself,”he said. But when these guys heard what I was doing, they wanted to help out, too.

The orphanage where they’ll be working was established by Paul Cormier of Bay City, chief of the Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit. Cormier divides his time between Bay City and Liogane, which was at the epicenter of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. The devastation — as many as 90 percent of the buildings are damaged — is  “unimaginable,” Glass says.

“What an awesome opportunity to serve others,” says Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, director of Community enCompass. “All I can say is it’s going to be powerfully changing for everyone involved.”

©2010 Muskegon Chronicle