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Summer service camps

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Over the summer, students from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington participated in two different service learning camps — Food-for-Life and Housing-for-Life — where they volunteered for three days at local nonprofits and participated in community initiatives. 

"The Food-for-Life and Housing-for-Life camps provide a hands-on experience in which students have the opportunity to not only learn about current social-economic issues, like food insecurity and homelessness, but also to make a practical contribution to assisting our neighbors,” said Joan Coolidge, the school’s Christian service coordinator, who developed these new summer offerings for students.

Each morning of camp, students gathered at school for a brief meeting before boarding the bus for their first service site. During the morning meeting, the group learned more about the service site’s mission and discussed broader related issues, for example, the importance of healthy nutrition and the difference between a home and a shelter.

For the first day of the Food-for-Life camp, students visited the Lamb Center in Fairfax, a resource center for people without homes, where they picked up trash from around the vicinity. The students noticed the difference their efforts could make. “I was surprised when we picked up four bags full of trash that day,” said sophomore Aly Sabatos.

On the second day, the students worked on the farm at the Garden Guild of the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, and for the third day they visited St. Ann Church in Arlington, where they collected freshly grown carrots from the garden and then donated them to Food for Others.

The Housing-for-Life students were transported on their first day to Vienna to repaint a fence for the Mt. Tabor Catholic Community. For the second day, students visited two L’Arche homes in Arlington. L’Arche provides services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The students worked outside clipping bushes, mowing lawns and removing weeds. On the last day, students returned to the Lamb Center where they helped clean areas of the facility and sorted socks donated for the guests.

“I am blessed in ways I simply didn’t realize,” said senior Will Avart as he reflected on his experience. “To have a house, a stable family situation and the ability to go to such a good school is such a privilege.”

At the end of each day, the students gathered to reflect on how they saw Christ in their day’s work. They discussed their experience and shared anything new that they learned.

The students enjoyed working together as a group and building camaraderie, but they were also able to gain new perspectives and apply their skills and faith to their work. 

“I’m happy about our contribution because we helped people who are unable to help themselves,” said freshman Peyton Proctor. “This experience made me think about all the people in the world who are struggling, and I want to continue to find ways to help them through volunteering.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021