ANSON — For the last 23 years, members of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, have traveled to central Maine for one week in the summer.

They camp at the Camp at the Eastward in Starks, cooking their own meals and enjoying the outdoors. During the day they spend their time doing service projects, often related to housing needs, but also performing other community work.

On Thursday about eight of the volunteers from the group, which calls itself Project Help, finished putting a new coat of shiny green paint on the North Anson Fire Station.

“This is the best week of the year,” said 24-year-old Gabrielle Eichelberger, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “It feels like a family reunion. We’ve really been able to connect with people in the community.”

Eichelberger is one of about 30 volunteers who traveled to central Maine with Project Help this week. The group is working through the East Parish Housing Ministry, a nonprofit group based in Starks that volunteers its time and, in many cases, materials, to renovate and repair area homes.

This is the 23rd year that Project Help has traveled to Maine. It was one of three groups to work with the housing ministry this week.

“They raise money all year long so they can come to Starks,” said Bert LaRose, a project supervisor for the East Parish Housing Ministry. “The work they do is mainly on houses for people who are either low on funds, disabled or just can’t afford to do the work, or they have some money but physically can’t do the work. We go to the home and do the work for them.”

The group took on close to 30 projects this summer, selected from an application process that takes place in the spring. LaRose said a resident in Anson approached him about painting the fire station, so he brought an application to the town’s Board of Selectmen. They applied and the project was accepted.

“It’s good community service,” Anson Fire Chief Jeremy Manzer said. “They came to us and asked to do it, so it wasn’t anything we sought to have donated; but the station was in desperate need of new paint.”

Amy Palmer, 67, first came to Maine as a volunteer with Project Help from Pennsylvania and liked the state so much she moved to Industry with her family.

She continues to volunteer with the group when they come back each year. “I once heard someone describe (the service trip to Maine) as the closest thing to heaven, and it really is,” Palmer said. “The kids are always asking, ‘Can we stay another week?'”

Although the trip is technically a youth mission trip, a number of adults also participate, both as chaperones and volunteers.

“It’s really a service mission. That’s the purpose of our church and it’s one of the things we do,” said Christopher Carter, a coordinator for Project Help.

“It looks like they did a good job,” Manzer said. “It’s a lot better than if I’d done it.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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