WorkCamp constructs faith, community in Fredericksburg

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Tylik Lucas, a parishioner of St. Matthew Church in Spotsylvania, lived with his grandmother last year when two crews of WorkCampers came to build a ramp on the side of her house. He became friends with the WorkCampers, who encouraged him to help. He was tentative at first but joined them in building the ramp.

Lucas was back this year as an official WorkCamper at WorkCamp 2017 June 24-30 in Fredericksburg.

“I wanted to see what it was like because everyone said they loved it,” said Lucas. “I enjoyed meeting new people, giving back to my community and getting closer to God.”

It takes an army of people to make WorkCamp happen. In addition to 821 youths, there were 197 adult leaders and 112 people who helped at home base, which was Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg. There were 37 parishes represented, working at 104 sites in nine counties. Kevin Bohli, director of the Office of Youth Ministry, said the goal of the projects each year is to make homes “warmer, safer and drier.”

This year they replaced nine roofs, built 76 decks or ramps, completed 54 window projects and sealed 21 trailer roofs, along with other construction projects.  

Elimma Aguolu, a rising senior at King George High School in King George, said her experience as a WorkCamper helped her be more focused than ever during adoration and has opened her eyes to her future plans as a teacher or doctor. "It (is) heartwarming to see those who are struggling still be happy and enjoying life," she said. 

Lamara Allen, a rising sophomore at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, was drawn to Workcamp by the combination of service and connecting to God in faith. Each crew member is a stranger to each other at the beginning of the week. “We just met but we all work really well together,” she said. “I think we all bring different things to the crew and it is a great environment.”

WorkCampers impact the lives of the homeowners. Kristle Kissenberger, a mother of three in Culpeper, said the assistance of the crews was a true blessing.

“I am not a major religious person,” she said. “But having these people here is a godsend and highly appreciated.”

WorkCampers built a deck, replaced windows and sealed the roof of her home. “The volunteers were great, and kept an upbeat attitude,” she said. “I could never even remotely get to where I am without their help.”

This year’s theme, “I will love,” was taken from St. Teresa of Kolkata’s address to the United Nations Oct. 26, 1985. Bohli said it was chosen last summer in the midst of racial tension in the United States. “For years we used Mother Teresa as an example of why we serve,” he said.

Bohli said the point they try to drive home to the students is the experience is not just about the project, such as building a wheelchair ramp. “The reason you (were) here this week is because God has called you because there is something He wants to change in you,” said Bohli. “We are blessed to have the privilege to do these things because God is going to be working in our lives this year.”

Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass June 28.

In his homily, Bishop Burbidge said the students were learning the priority of prayer by being with God and then going forth in service. "Use your gifts and talents to transform the hearts and lives of other people, then you can be assured that you will be fully alive in Christ," he said. 

Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde celebrated Mass June 30. Residents and WorkCampers gathered to talk about the impact of WorkCamp 2017 after Mass.

Though for many this was their WorkCamp, others return year after year. Contractor Paul Guilloux was a WorkCamper for all four years of high school, returning for all but one year since 2008 as a contractor. He looked up to the contractors when he was a WorkCamper. Now he tries to pass on his knowledge to other aspiring contractors, and give advice to his crew members about school and jobs.

“Everyone was joyful and happy to have done something good,” he said. “WorkCampers are transformed from the inside and talked about how they were going to keep their faith. People are changed and hearts are touched.”

Brenda Chichester, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton, volunteered at home base for the fifth time. She finds it a spiritual experience to see the WorkCampers have a new appreciation for what they have. She said it gives the youths a real sense of spirituality.

Hayden Marsh, a rising senior at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, has done several service projects but said this one is different. “I’ve never connected this deeply with people on a level like this,” he said. “We’re connecting with people, getting to know them better and treating them as Christ would treat them.”

Marsh believes this type of volunteer work can raise awareness among national leaders. “It is not just people in Africa that need help, it is the people here. Everyone is a neighbor,” he said. “It is our job to figure out what their problems are and help them.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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