Kids lend a hand to help improve Murphey School

Gloria Sullivan, left, and Miranda Barrow with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints paint the top of a swing set at the Elizabeth W. Murphey School in Dover last week. The two were part of a group of over 50 kids ages 14 to 18 who spent Thursday through Saturday sprucing up the foster care facility. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Over 50 kids ages 14 to 18 showed that motivation trumps experience while sprucing up the Elizabeth W. Murphey School last week.

Teenagers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered at the Dover foster care school Thursday for their annual conference, focused on an impactful service project that provided “whatever the school needs,” according to Kaden Childs, 14, of Camden.

Betsy Christian, 16, of Townsend, had never handled a saw before cutting wood, singles and drywall into small pieces for disposal. Her work team was tasked with helping demolish an outbuilding that did not fall under protection from a city, state or national historical registry. The building needed to go so that a much-needed parking place could be added.

“This is absolutely hard work and it gives me a greater appreciation for those who do it for a living,” Betsy said.

Added Kaden, “It’s a little challenging, a little tiring to swing a sledgehammer.

“If you get tired, though, you take a break, rest up a bit and then get right back to it.”

Certainly, “This isn’t just busy work,” Murphey School Executive Director Michael Kopp said.

“They’ll get it done. They are feverishly at it and have been since arriving this morning.

Conner Barrow, left, and Logan Messick with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clean up debris as part of a service project at the Elizabeth W. Murphey School in Dover. Eight Murphey School residents also took part in work. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“This group of youths isn’t a group of youths that just stands around. One of the reasons they do it is because they believe it’s Christ-like service. They believe it’s what the savior would have done.”

Or as project manager Seth Kopp put it, “They’re a group of 50-plus kids who chose to give up the next 48 hours-plus of their summer, which probably meant not going to the beach or doing exactly they wanted to do on their break from school.

“They came here and were like, ‘Let’s go, let’s get to it.’”

The kids hailing from Smyrna in the north to Salisbury, Maryland in the south and towns in between, were working well ahead of schedule within a couple hours, organizers said. The conference’s mission was to “strengthen faith and each other,” according to the church. Eight Murphey School residents also took part.

“It makes the work seem lighter and easier when you know that our actions are really going to make the lives of others better,” Betsy said.

The checklist from Thursday morning to noon Saturday included, among other tasks, painting five pieces of playground equipment, spreading 80 yards of mulch, staining seven picnic tables and two benches, moving exercise equipment before painting and etching 1,000 square feet of floors, and removing a wooden flower box to create room for a new planter to house a bronze statue saluting a Murphey alumni.

The kids stayed with area church families at night, and were treated to a barbecue, slip and slide and bouncy houses Thursday, and a Friday night dance at the church.

The checklist from Thursday morning to noon Saturday included, among other tasks, painting five pieces of playground equipment, spreading 80 yards of mulch, staining seven picnic tables and two benches, moving exercise equipment before painting and etching 1,000 square feet of floors, and removing a wooden flower box to create room for a new planter to house a bronze statue saluting a Murphey alumni. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The plan was hatched last winter after husband and wife Seth and Amber Kopp met with youth leaders to find a suitable service project. Overtures to the Air Mobility Command Museum and Delaware Historical Society  didn’t yield results due to the large scale needed to find work for half a hundred youths, not just a few.

“The kids looked at us and said ‘We don’t want to weed or trim bushes,’” Seth Kopp said. “We want to do something that matters — something that when you look at it you can tell we’ve made a difference.”

The work was necessary, and Murphey School’s budget remained more liquid thanks to the volunteer efforts.

“Any one of the projects would be a financial challenge to get done, so getting them all done in a short amount of time is a tremendous boost for a nonprofit,” Michael Kopp said.

“It’s the difference in being able to fund a summer program to not being able to, which means that many more kids do not get served.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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