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City of cardboard
Local teens experience homelessness
-A-Cardboard City pic 3
Kaitlyn Pain, left, and Carly Kunkel joined a group of local teens who set up a cardboard city, where they slept a couple nights, outside the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville.

A group of teenagers sat among a cluster of cardboard boxes and metal drums serving as trash cans.

They were near the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, but they didn"t have cell phones, iPods or credit cards. In fact, they didn't have a place to call home.

The teens were taking part in the Cardboard City project, an effort to empathize with those who have been forced to live on the streets.

A combined effort of North Georgia Church, Harbor Worship Center and Church of the Apostles, Cardboard City gave 50 to 100 students a 60-hour experience of what it might be like to be homeless.

They slept in the cardboard boxes with sleeping bags and pillows. Their meals consisted of peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs.

The students, who participated from Thursday until Saturday, attended school on Friday after sleeping without modern conveniences.

"It's like their everyday life, so they have to go to school ... no showers, they are going stinky as they are," said Luke Syfert, associate and youth pastor at North Georgia Church in Dawsonville.

Live music, worship time and testimonies from formerly homeless people also were part of the experience.

"When I was in seminary we did this and it was called 'kingdom building,' and they did a conference every year and so as students we all slept outside," Syfert said. "It was sort of a poverty-awareness idea. So I adopted that and made it for teenagers."

Brock Sutton, a Dawson County High freshman and a member of North Georgia Church, said he got involved with the project for the opportunity to share his faith.

"I decided to do it because I heard we can walk around and minister to people and I love doing that ... fellowship and be around all of my friends and get closer," he said. "I think that I'll learn to choose my decisions wisely because seeing what they went through."

Carly Kunkel said she wanted to participate because it was a local project.

"I did because I just think it's a really cool thing and plus a lot of people say, 'Why don"t we do something here,'" she said. "Because everybody goes out of town or out of the country to do mission trips and never do anything in Dawsonville."

Kunkel added that before heading to Cardboard City she was thankful for her comfy bed.

"Last night I was laying in my bed and I was thinking this is nice and tonight I'm not going to be able to do that," said Kunkel, a member of Harbor Worship Center. "It just makes you appreciate what you have."

About eight to 10 students from Church of the Apostles were expected to attend the Cardboard City event.

JP Morris, youth pastor at the church, said he was hoping the experience taught his students to be more of a servant.

"I believe that God made us to be outwardly focused, caring for other people as opposed to all about me," he said. "A lot of what our culture says is that it's all about me.

"The heart of the gospel is Jesus already did it for you and he came for you, so now our part is to say, 'He did this for us.' How can we not help other people.'"