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October 11, 2003

Moving Big Rocks, And Other Stories

From: Newsday - Oct 11, 2003

By Betty Ommerman
Staff Writer

In their determination to make life better for others, seven student volunteers from Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf traveled to Idaho this summer to clear mountain trails and help paint a lodge at a camp retreat.

These young people, ages 15 to 20, joined about 75 hearing teenagers from church groups in Florida, Illinois, Texas and Washington from July 25-31 to help spruce up the Shoshone Base Camp in Coeur d'Alene in northwest Idaho. They worked as participants of Mill Neck Manor's Servanthood Projects, through which students at the school have helped various communities each year since 1998.

The Mill Neck students this year -- Rhoxanne Cajuelan, 15, of Lynbrook; Ashley Ferrante, 16, of Long Beach; Wendy Malone, 16, of Rockville Centre; Jonathan Matos, 17, of Manhattan; Michael Milazzo, 17, of Howard Beach; Melissa Reano, 20, of Centerport and David Torrence, 15, of Mineola -- put up scaffolds and helped paint the three-story lodge they lived in, cleared mountain trails around the camp and opened up new trails. The latter often involved moving large rocks off the trails.

Inland Northwest Lutheran Outdoor Ministries acquired a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service five years ago, allowing it to use the camp as a retreat for teenage volunteer groups.

The Mill Neck students say the project made them feel good about helping others.

"We learned a lot on our trip," Reano signed to an interpreter, who translated for a reporter. "The most important thing was to be a team and cooperate."

"This was a good way to learn to serve and give of themselves," said Barbara Lanman, coordinator of the Mill Neck Foundation for Deaf Ministry, founded in 1979 as a service organization of the Lutheran Church. The foundation provides funds for the Mill Neck Manor Servanthood Projects for students at the school, which is open to legal residents of New York State. Lanman and Mill Neck chaplain William Wrede accompanied the seven students on the summer's project.

Wrede said he was inspired by "several excellent discussions on the service they had done." He said he is looking foward to continuing these discussions with the group, as well as with other students on campus this fall.

The Mill Neck students interacted with the other groups during meals and other daily activities. "In fact," Lanman said, "it didn't take long before a couple of our students were teaching the hearing students sign language."

Their day began with breakfast at 8 a.m. Then they divided into teams and either put up the scaffolds and painted the lodge or gathered shovels, work tools and sturdy gloves to clear the trails. The latter group took a bus for 40 to 50 minutes to go into the mountains.

Back at the camp by 4:30 or 5 p.m., they had time before dinner to go tubing on the river, enjoy white-water rafting or climb a 70-foot cliff under the leadership of certified rock climbers. Each group then took turns conducting a worship service around a campfire before retiring at 10:30 p.m.

"It was a great trip because it didn't matter if you were deaf or hearing," Matos signed.

Torrence added that his favorite things were painting the dormitory and working on the trails.

Cajuelan signed, "I had a good time because I like to travel to other places in the world."

"This is our sixth year doing Servanthood," Lanman said. "We find that each group is unique."

Previous projects included working in soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters in the metropolitan area in 2002; traveling in 2001 to Rocky Mount, N.C., where they helped clean up debris remaining from Hurricane Floyd in 1999; and, in 2000, helping build a new school at the Caribbean Christian Center for the Deaf in Kingston, Jamaica.

In 1999, the Mill Neck students spent a week at the Gila River Indian Reservation near Phoeniz, Ariz., painting and cleaning the vandalized bathroom of the Casa Blanca School. The first Servanthood Project, in 1998, found the students in Marcus, S.D., helping sheep rancher Bud Boudreau repair flood damage to his property by cleaning up debris and replanting trees.

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