WorkCamp 2016: Building fellowship, repairing faith

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There wasn't an empty seat as everyone gathered in the school auditorium for 7 a.m. Mass prior to heading to their work sites Thursday to wrap up their projects. The weeklong WorkCamp was drawing to a close, and while many campers were slow-moving before Mass began, they were recharged by the end - bursting out of the auditorium doors and filling the hallways with energy.

Wishes for a good day were exchanged over breakfast, and cars full of workcampers began to file out of the school parking lot as crews made their way to their work sites. A group of about 15 people lined the exit lane, swinging hula hoops, waving pool noodles and tossing bags of candy into the cars as they passed by.

More than 1,300 people participated in this year's WorkCamp based at Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg. Kevin Bohli, director of the Office of Youth Ministry, said the camp drew 850 young people, 250 adult leaders, 200 contractors and 80 security volunteers.

Every parish holds a training session for their teens, stakeholders and contractors prior to the week of camp to familiarize them with the electric tools they will use at their sites. Miki Escudero, assistant WorkCamp coordinator, said some parishes build a picnic table and sell it in a raffle to raise funds to cover their costs of attending the camp.

Crews 24 and 15 repaired a roof at the home of Genevieve Cannedy in Fredericksburg.

Jack Trimber, a workcamper from Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, said interacting with her made an impact on him. "She'll come out and eat with us, and it's really cool to see who we're helping," he said.

Cannedy said the kids would chat with her about Bible scripture over lunch on her big picnic table. Even when they were working on the roof, she said she would hear them occasionally call out, "Timeout for praise out," and the crew would momentarily stop working to say a prayer.

"They are very friendly, bubbly and cheerful," Cannedy said. "There doesn't seem to be a lazy one in the bunch."

Alyssa Naupari, first-time workcamper from Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge, said the experience has made her think about God's love and mercy. "I've never really gotten to contemplate that and witness it, but this year I did, seeing all these teens here," she said.

Several workcampers said the best part of the week was eucharistic adoration Tuesday evening.

"Adoration was my favorite moment, it was a really peaceful time," Naupari said.

Peter Lucas from St. Louis Church in Alexandria agreed. "I really had an awesome time during adoration," he said. "I got to go to confession and experience the mercy of the Lord."

Another common sentiment among workcampers was that the week helped to strengthen their faith, which for some, had been faltering.

"It's been quite a turnaround, because for a while, I stopped praying," Lucas said. "I had fallen off. But this week has really gotten me back on the path toward daily praying."

Crews 132 and 109 built two decks at a home in Spotsylvania. The father-and-son contractor team who managed the work site seemed to enjoy the week as much as the campers. Mike Riley Sr. traveled from South Carolina to join his son and grandchildren to make WorkCamp a family bonding activity.

"For me it was a great opportunity to be with my family, and a great way to help serve God and people in need here in Spotsylvania," Mike Sr. said.

Mike Riley Jr., a parishioner of St. Ambrose Church in Annandale, said he enjoyed guiding the campers through the journey of accomplishing something they had never done before.

"My goal is to make sure that the kids understand how to build something," Mike Jr. said. "By the end of the week, they've accomplished a really large project that they didn't think they could do at the beginning."

He said the week is an opportunity to use the "gifts and talents that God has given us" to help other people. "That's exactly what this whole WorkCamp experience is about."

Niamh Lowry, crew 132 leader and parish stakeholder for St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, said WorkCamp has a profound impact on everyone involved - not just the campers. "It's a wonderful experience for the adults, for the volunteers, for the teens," she said. "It is a growth experience for all. It's very fulfilling and it brings everybody closer to God."

Husar can be reached at mhusar@catholicherald.com

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016