For a couple of 22-year-olds, Maxwell and Richard Brooke have volumes of volunteer stories to tell – but little time these days to share them. They're a little busy producing their next notable chapter.
The fraternal twins from China Grove, N.C., are just setting out on a monumental, 10-month mission to chronicle UCC volunteer ministries nationwide. For starters, they will visit 17 sites in nine states and the District of Columbia. And that’s just through December.
“This is an out-of-the-box volunteer assignment,” says the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, executive for volunteer ministries for Global Sharing of Resources in UCC Wider Church Ministries. “This has never been done before.”
“We're anxious and excited to show the story of all of these volunteers who have this great passion,” says Richard, who graduated last spring from the University of North Carolina with a dual major in political science and religious studies and a minor in social justice.
“Our generation feels like we can make an impact through volunteer work,” adds Max, now an alumnus of East Carolina University, where he earned a communications degree with a focus in broadcasting and journalism. “We feel like we can change the world by taking things we’re good at and making our communities better.”
Having spent most of the past four years apart, the two are primed to reinforce their strong brotherly bond.
“The biggest challenge probably has been the production aspect of everything involved,” says Richard. “I’m learning a lot, picking up stuff on the fly. I’m a quick learner and Max is a good teacher.”
On Sept. 8, the pair packed their dad’s 2004 Kia Sorento with their belongings – including two new digital cameras – and headed for their two-day orientation at the UCC national offices in Cleveland. The church is providing partial funding for the equipment, as well as a food and travel stipend.
Editing on the road as they go, the Brookes’ itinerary includes stops at urban ministries sites, nursing homes and transitional living programs. Through December, they will lodge with host families and hostels in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Maryland, West Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee before going home for Christmas break.
The 2011 part of the schedule has not been finalized but likely destinations include Arizona, the Northwest and the Gulf Coast. A debut of the Brooke brothers’ final production is to debut at General Synod 28 in Tampa next July.
The concept for the unprecedented mission was the brainchild of the Brookes' father, Tom, who sits on the UCC national board of directors. He pitched the idea to Blaufuss, and history is now in the making.
“Oh, right away,” says an enthusiastic Max, when asked whether the concept sounded plausible from the get-go. Richard wasn’t quite as sure. At least not so soon. “I had to think about it a little,” he says. “It’s pretty ambitious. But we talked with Mary, and we fleshed it out. We knew it would require patience, and it would affect a lot of people.”
Though “Twin Maps” is clearly the most ambitious of their undertakings to date, the Brookes are no strangers to volunteerism – or travel. For five years, they participated in and promoted a work camp at their home church, Mt. Zion UCC in Salisbury, N.C. “We formed some great bonds there,” says Max.
At age 16, they spent two weeks in Honduras as part of the World Gospel Mission. “We met so many people who had little to work with, no running water, and were content with the way their lives were and their view of the world,” says Richard. “They really treated us with hospitality. The community was really strengthened by the church.”
The kickoff to the project is clearly energizing for Blaufuss. “It’s really a way to make the volunteer experience personal and to encourage others who might be considering contributing their time,” she says.
The brothers appear both buoyed by possibility and grounded in gratitude.
“I feel really blessed to be put in this position,” Max says. “It was everything I wanted to do.” Adds Richard, “It will enrich life in every aspect. We’ll never have the chance to do this again. Not many people get to do this.”