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July 1, 2003

Volunteer works in silence

From: LaGrange Daily News, GA - Jul 1, 2003

The chatter of teenagers, the pounding of hammers and the loud bangs whenever construction debris went in the Dumpster filled McGregor Street Monday morning.

But Robert Marion hears only silence.

The 27-year-old Lexington, N.C., resident and crew leader for the World Changers “Brick Bats” crew has to communicate with the 15 teenagers he’s in charge of mostly through sign language interpreters. He been profoundly deaf since he was 1.

“I can talk to the kids or I can get one of the interpreters,” Marion said.

But the teenagers - so far - have been easy to work with.

“They were surprised,” Marion said. “At first they were afraid or nervous, but they’re getting used to me.”

The teenagers on the crew say they’ve enjoyed working with Marion.

“I think it’s cool he’s not ashamed of his disability,” said Rebekah Metts, 16, of Pleasant Grove, Ala.

Marion’s interpreter, Jesse Oviate, 15, learned sign language from his mother and could sign a full sentence before he could speak.

“It shouldn’t matter if we have a deaf or hearing leader,” Oviate said. “We’re all here for the same purpose.”

Peter McKenzie, 18, from Winston-Salem, N.C., said he’s enjoyed the challenge of trying to communicate with Marion.

“I just got back from Spain, and we had to have a translator there,” he said. “It’s been slightly challenging, but it’s nice to have a challenge on a project like this.”

More than 250 teenagers are spending this week in LaGrange for World Changers, a national mission project sponsored by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is the project’s fourth year in LaGrange. Another group will be in town to continue the work Monday.

Marion had volunteered on a mission in Kentucky, but this week is the first week he’s led a World Changers crew. Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, which Marion and Oviate attend, has a deaf ministry, and Marion’s pastor volunteered him for the job.

“I’m an experienced carpenter,” said Marion, a carpentry major at Forsyth Technical Community College who expects to graduate this month.

Marion’s crew spent Monday preparing LaGrange resident Ossie Maddix’s house for a new roof.

“World Changers not only helps the resident, but we reach out to the neighborhood,” Marion said of his mission.

Jennifer Shrader can be reached at jshrader@ or at (706) 884-7311, ext. 236.

© 2002 LaGrange Daily News