The temperatures were supposed to climb into the 100s that day, but Julia Ericson and her fellow volunteers didn’t notice.

They were busy finishing up several construction projects at a Carthage home to help out a woman with cancer. It was part of a weeklong summer youth ministry — and Ericson’s fourth time giving back by picking up a hammer, paintbrush or whatever else was needed to get the job done.

“I just really like serving and helping people out,” Ericson, from Humble, said. “I feel like it’s just a lot of learning and life lessons. You get to learn how to do saws and drills and stuff. It’s actually really fun, and then you get to meet people that you don’t know and get to make those new connections.”

First United Methodist Church of Carthage hosted the U.M.A.R.M.Y. — that’s United Methodist Action Reach-out Missions by Youth — last week, with several Houston- and Lufkin-area students traveling up to donate their time and hands to help fix up homes for Carthage and Panola County residents in need.

Volunteers built wheelchair ramps, put up fences, repaired patio roofs and painted under triple-degree temperatures at places like Mission Carthage and Gloria Freeney’s Cook Street home.

Freeney said she was happy to have students working around her house. The small group of volunteers had been busy that week replacing her back patio roof, which had deteriorated, and painting her home’s exterier.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “I enjoy meeting new people, and they’re just so friendly and I like that.”

Kevin McMachen, the administrative coordinator for the camp and pastor at Highlands United Methodist Church in Highlands, said he’s always amazed that the young volunteers choose to sacrifice a week of their summer to help others.

Not to mention the adult work site supervisors who volunteer as well.

“What I find amazing is how many adults get involved in it,” he said. “Sometimes they get one or two weeks of vacation a year, and they spent it at these camps like this sweating their butts off. They sit in the air conditioning all year and then they about kill themselves one week a year. Then they come back and do it again!”

McMachen said work sites are selected through a variety of sources, including Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, area churches and area nonprofits. Sometimes, he said, it’s just word of mouth while groups are working in neighborhoods.

Carthage’s U.M.A.R.M.Y. camp was one of several that will take place throughout the state this summer. Conner Melton, a New Boston youth working at Freeney’s home with Ericson, said he likes the program a lot and plans to attend another camp next week.

“I enjoy getting to know the clients,” he said.

Sarah Grant, a Katy resident also working at the Cook Street site, decided to come after her friends told her about the camp.

“I just figured it was a good thing and it would be beneficial for everybody that was here,” she said. “...I thought it would be a lot hotter. And I figured I’d only be doing like wheelchair ramps, but I really like that everybody has a different need. The people here were really, really nice, and they made me feel super welcome. I was sort of nervous about coming here with all the different people from all the different churches and being split up from my friends, but we’re all really close now. We work really well as a team, too.”

The Cook Street group said they enjoyed getting to know Freeney, and for the most part things had gone well.

“Now we woke her up yesterday morning,” Jim Gammons, the supervising adult on site, said. “We felt kind of bad. But she was still very, very happy. And she said — what did she say? — ‘Y’all can wake me up anytime!’ I said ‘We’re not going to wake her up tomorrow morning.’”

Serving others is what the camp is all about, Gammons said.

“That’s the thing,” he said. “I’ve been on a few and just to see the expresses in the clients’ and the homeowners’ faces, just for them to be happy for us to be here. It’s just the glow in their eyes. It’s just something magical about that, and each time you go out and do something like that, it changes your life. It changes it in such good ways that makes it all worth it.”


Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.