It is quarter to seven on a typical morning at Tuxedo, New York. The sky is blue, and a thin layer of ice covers the small lake beside the four-story building that young men and women are entering. Dressed in work clothes and boots, they have traveled this morning from local hotels and residences and from other parts of the state—Patterson, Wallkill, and even Brooklyn, some 80 kilometers (50 mi) away.
Before today, though, most of these people had come much farther, from all parts of the United States and beyond. They have volunteered to work here—some for a week, some for six weeks, and some for longer. They paid their way and receive no pay for the services they provide. Yet, they are delighted to be here.
There are about 120 volunteers this day, though the numbers will increase in the months ahead. They file into the dining room and sit down, ten to a table. Many help themselves to coffee as the smell of bacon drifts in from the kitchen. At exactly 7:00 a.m., television monitors broadcast a discussion of a Bible text. Fifteen minutes later, waiters serve breakfast. Along with the bacon, they bring bread, eggs, and oatmeal. There is plenty to eat.
After a closing prayer at the end of the meal, it’s off to work. Those with construction jobs chatter happily as they don hard hats, safety glasses, high-visibility vests, and heavy tool belts.
The task at hand is to transform the former International Paper Company facility at Tuxedo into a construction staging area for the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which will be built a few miles down the road, technically in the town of Warwick. Residence rooms and offices are being constructed within the existing buildings, as are workshops and storage areas. On Tuesday, March 12, 2013, the local planning board gave conditional approval for the Tuxedo site plan.
What kind of welcome are the temporary volunteers given when they first arrive at their accommodations? “When you check in,” says William, from New Jersey, “the brothers at the front desk tell you the basics—where your room is, how to get around, how to use the keys. Everybody helps you out. When you get to Tuxedo, you meet your crew leader after breakfast and he explains what you are going to do.”
What is it like to serve here? Yajaira and her husband came from Puerto Rico and are assisting with framing and drywall. “We get up about 4:30 a.m.,” she says. “We clean up the apartment, grab a cup of coffee, and head for the bus that has been provided. We are tired at the end of the day, but it seems we never stop laughing. Everyone is so happy.”
The Warwick property is surrounded by forest. Zach and his wife, Beth, from Minnesota, are helping to prepare the Warwick site. Asked why they came here, Beth says: “We believe there is no better purpose in life than to serve Jehovah. We wanted to use our skills in his service.”