Many hands, one family

First slide

Although most Arlington WorkCamp participants leave everything familiar to serve the needy in Shenandoah County, one local family volunteered their time and talents as a unit by sending 16 individuals to take part in WorkCamp 2015 June 22-26.

Eleven adults and five youths from the extended Gordon-Konopa-McClure-Smith family combined their love of service with a desire to deepen their faith by working with more than 1,300 other volunteers in Quicksburg, Va., to complete construction projects meant to make homes safer and more comfortable for local residents.

While more members of the family attended this year's program than ever before, the Gordon-Konopa-McClure-Smith family is no stranger to WorkCamp.

In 2008, Emily McCall and Kelsey Gordon attended WorkCamp for the first time as youth volunteers. They enjoyed the experience so much that they convinced Kelsey's parents to join them as adult volunteers the following year.

It was because Kelsey's mom, Marianne Gordon, couldn't stop gushing about WorkCamp that her sister, Agnes Smith, decided the program might be worthwhile.

"Initially, I got involved with WorkCamp because of Marianne," said Smith. "She was totally blown away by her experience, and her enthusiasm was infectious. She told me I needed to witness for myself all the graces that come with WorkCamp, so that's what I did."

Overcome by the "amazing and constant flow of grace" that she experienced at WorkCamp, Smith quickly began helping her sister recruit additional family members, but they were not always successful.

"My sisters had been asking me to get involved with WorkCamp for years, but I just wasn't sure I was a good enough Catholic to be leading these young people," said Karl Konopa. "Eventually, when my son became old enough to go, I decided to get involved with him. I am so glad that I did."

While Konopa had heard positive things about WorkCamp, he was unprepared for the "life-changing" experience of his first year as an adult volunteer in 2014.

After arriving at the job site and learning that his crew had no contractor, dumpster or bathroom, Konopa was worried how the teens would react.

"We were out in the middle of nowhere and we were on our own, but the kids didn't even bat an eye," said Konopa. "They just introduced themselves to the resident and asked him if he would like to pray with us. Although he wasn't interested in praying himself, he showed respect for our faith, and by the end of the week, he began joining us in prayer. I was blown away by these teens and by their ability to meet challenges and make the best of it."

While most volunteers come away from WorkCamp changed in some way, Smith said it was remarkable for a family to grow so much as a unit from one shared experience rooted in service and love.

"The entire week is pretty amazing, but when you have your own teens, spouse, siblings, nieces and nephews to share it with, it becomes much more meaningful," said Smith. "Embracing one another during Mass, singing, dancing and praying together each evening … the love we share with one another oozes all over anyone who stands close enough to get it on them. It's just remarkable."

Theresa McClue, a three-time adult volunteer who initially heard about WorkCamp while living in West Virginia, feels incredibly blessed to be able to grow in faith with members of her family,

"I truly feel that the family involvement has been such a blessing," said McClue. "We have always been close to each other, and the experiences we share at WorkCamp help us to grow and share a deeper faith rooted in a sense of belonging to the kingdom of God. It is because of WorkCamp that we are able to freely share our love of Christ more openly with one another and carry it out into the world during the rest of the year."

Willis can be reached at jwillis@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015