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August 17, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 21

PROFILE

photo: Leap of faith. Students participating in the fifth annual Diocesan Work Camp in Charlottesville and Greene County areas demonstrate enthusiasm for helping make a great cause a success.

Leap of faith. Students participating in the fifth annual Diocesan Work Camp in Charlottesville and Greene County areas demonstrate enthusiasm for helping make a great cause a success. (photo: Angie Pometto)

Catholic Work Camp experience blends service with spirituality

“It puts a very high energy fun experience in a faith setting.”

That is how Dan Harms, director of youth ministry at St. Bridget Parish in Richmond, describes the experience of teens who attend the Catholic Heart Work Camp each summer.

Teens from various parishes in the Diocese have participated in several different faith-building work camp experiences this summer. They spent a week at various work sites to help with renovations or home improvements for people unable to either physically do the work or cannot afford to hire it out.

Campers with the Diocesan Work Camp at sites in Charlottesville and Greene County numbered 145 high school students and adult leaders. Their labor, during the week of June 20–26, aided 20 local residents and two Catholic parishes.

The projects included laying new flooring in 10 rooms, repairing five decks, remodeling four bathrooms, and installing drywall, painting and making repairs to a house.

They stayed overnight at Church of the Incarnation and neighboring St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlottesville.

“We took about 60 people on the first trip which was the week from June 28 to July 4 in Charlotte,” Mr. Harms said, adding that a second trip to Charleston, SC July 12–18 had 15–20 more people.

photo: A work team with teens from various parts of the U.S.,
  including a few from St. Bridget’s, take a break doing repairs to the house of
  an elderly military veteran in Charleston, SC.

A work team with teens from various parts of the U.S., including a few from St. Bridget’s, take a break doing repairs to the house of an elderly military veteran in Charleston, SC.

After breakfast each morning the older teens attend Mass or some faith-based service. The younger teens experience a prayer service.

Their efforts made “a difference in the lives of others,” said James Howard, director of Greene County Social Services, who added that “their efforts to improve lives and the work they performed was amazing.”

The teens worked hard during the day, but felt rewarded by the effort, especially seeing the reaction of the residents they helped.

“It’s really wonderful to see their faces when the work is done,” said Isabella Boehling, a sophomore at St. Gertrude High School in Richmond who was part of the St. Bridget’s Catholic Heart Work Camp.

“Everyone is encouraging each other throughout the work site and in the program,” she said.

While the Diocesan Work Camp only involved teens from various parishes in Virginia, those who were part of St. Bridget’s group traveled in two different groups to Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC where they mingled with teens from other states. As they joined work groups of eight or nine teens, they were the only one in that group from their parish.

“The teens are sent off in their work group of eight or nine kids who are from other states,” Mr. Harms said. “We get a good number of kids from the Midwest — Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

“They get to hear what other Catholic kids do in their youth ministry and parishes.

“One of the powerful things is that the students not only are engaging with an older person, but working in their home,” Mr. Harms said.

“For many of the students it was a new experience and one in which they previously would not have felt completely comfortable before,” he added.

Catholic Heart Work Camp, whose headquarters are in Orlando, FL, schedules 54 different camps throughout the country. Each camp has between 180 and 350 teens on a one-week experience. Campers bring their own air mattresses and sleep on the floor each night.

“One of the things about Catholic Heart Work Camp is that it’s very high energy,” Mr. Harms said. “They do a high-quality production with lights, video and music each night.

“You might have 300 students and every student gets their photo shown on the big screen so the other kids can cheer them on,” he continued. “They all get a big kick out of it.”

Students in the Diocesan Work Camp participated in a program each night which featured keynote speaker Cooper Ray and John Hopke, campus minister at the College of William and Mary. Campers attended daily Mass. On Tuesday night there was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a reconcilation service.

photo: Quinn Girardi and Isabella Boehling, both of St. Bridget Parish, Richmond.

Quinn Girardi and Isabella Boehling, both of St. Bridget Parish, Richmond.

Fourteen priests and 14 seminarians spent time with the teens throughout the week and assisted at the Tuesday night service.

Isabella Boehling, from St. Bridget's, Richmond, emphasized the impact that the campers doing physical labor is one of the greatest achievements of the experience.

“When the resident sees the work you've done after you clean up and fix their house and we get to see their reaction, you feel like you’ve helped out a lot and it has impacted their life,” she explained.

A group of 25, both teens and adults, were a contingent from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Norfolk who went to Dover, Delaware June 21-26 on a Catholic Heart Work Camp mission trip.

“It’s a wonderful program that helps them strengthen their Catholic identity and their faith while getting their fingernails dirty and serving those in need,” said Father Joseph Metzger, pastor.

Like many CHWC sites, participation at the Dover mission was open to 8th through 12th grade students. Job assignments were based on campers’ responses to a questionnaire. Rather than staying together as a parish group, the campers were teamed with youth from other parishes who had similar talents.

“They are from different parishes and different perspectives, but they are all there for the same reasons — to get closer to God and to serve those in need,” Father Metzger explained.

photo: A group from Blessed Sacrament, Norfolk take a break during work camp in Dover, Delaware.

A group from Blessed Sacrament, Norfolk take a break during work camp in Dover, Delaware.

Sometimes the campers go above and beyond what is expected of them.

Father Metzger related that one of the group of teens from Blessed Sacrament learned that the husband of an elderly woman they were helping didn’t have a funeral when he died. The campers then planned and led a prayer service for the man in the woman’s backyard.

The evening programs had activities, music, skits, videos, slides of the work day and testimonies from teens as well as motivational speakers.

“The inspirational speeches were powerful, and they were able to connect with everyone,” said Ethan Willingham, from Blessed Sacrament who had two previous summer experiences with CHWC.

Perhaps a few campers who were new to the Catholic Heart Work Camp experience may have arrived with “a ho-hum” attitude, but they soon saw the benefits of why they were there when they saw the exuberance and joy of others.

photo: Kneeling from left are: Henry Baird; Peter from Ohio; Samuel Stivers; Noah Simmons. Back Row: Quinn Girardi; Alex Ostrom; Jack Carpin; Michael Coggeshall; Pierce Norman; Justin Ashey; Michael Fortune; Mikey Krongaard; Karl Hardrick; Aaron D'Amato, Harrison Alley; and Will Bird at North Charleston High School where they lived during the week.

Kneeling from left are: Henry Baird; Peter from Ohio; Samuel Stivers; Noah Simmons. Back Row: Quinn Girardi; Alex Ostrom; Jack Carpin; Michael Coggeshall; Pierce Norman; Justin Ashey; Michael Fortune; Mikey Krongaard; Karl Hardrick; Aaron D'Amato, Harrison Alley; and Will Bird at North Charleston High School where they lived during the week.

“They would see that many were getting something out of it and thought ‘maybe I can too,’” said Quinn Girardi, a senior at Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County who was on his fifth Catholic Heart Work Camp experience.

Anne-Marie Condlin, an adult camper from St. Bridget's, said the parish gets behind the Catholic Heart Work Camp both financially and spiritually. A spaghetti dinner attracts more than 400 people and helps offset the costs of the camp.

“If we didn't have the support of Msgr. (William) Carr, pastor, and the rest of the parish, we wouldn't have the opportunity to serve,” she said.

The project started 11 years ago when St. Bridget parishioners John and Ann McCulla took a group of 17 to Appalachia. Now the parish sends between 120 and 150 campers to Catholic Heart Work Camp.

“This really is a job, but it is a gift to be part of so many spiritual journeys,” Mrs. Condlin said.

“I don't feel like anybody goes away without feeling they made a difference in someone's life,” Ethan from Blessed Sacrament said.

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