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More than 600 teens repair homes and grow in their faith during WorkCamp

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Jack Reed didn’t have plans for the summer when he spotted a brochure for WorkCamp at his parish. “As soon as I got the permission slip and I met the people who were going, I knew this is how I wanted to spend a week of my summer,” said Reed, a parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Reston. 

That was back in 2018. This year is Reed’s fourth time attending WorkCamp. The recent high school graduate enjoys using his skills to fix homes and serve others, but it's the WorkCamp community that has kept him coming back each summer. “I’m a social person but it has to be with the right people and this is that group for me,” said Reed. “We hang out outside of church all the time and when we’re here, we're just constantly having a good time.”

Reed was one of 600 diocesan teens from 35 parishes who participated in this year’s WorkCamp. The teens and adult volunteers completed 100 community repair projects during the faith-filled service camp June 19-24, sponsored by the diocesan Office of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult Ministries. In past years, WorkCampers have gathered at a public high school in the diocese for the week. They were divided into crews of teens from different parishes and were assigned a repair project at a nearby home. 

Last year, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, WorkCamp was parish-based. This year, WorkCamp was organized into program centers. After attending morning Mass at their home parish and spending the day at a nearby worksite, groups from different parishes gathered for dinner, games, activities, music and prayer at the closest center, usually a parish or Catholic high school. After the evening program, the teens returned to their own homes. 

When rain kept them from working outdoors, the 25 teens at St. John Neumann spent Tuesday morning deep-cleaning the church — repairing kneelers, steam-cleaning pew cushions, mopping floors and washing windows. “If there’s a window in this church, it’s going to get cleaned,” instructed Nick Buck, a longtime adult leader. 

Buck first started volunteering with WorkCamp when his daughter attended years ago. Though he was raised Catholic, he credits WorkCamp with jump-starting his faith life. “I don't think I had a personal relationship with God until WorkCamp,” he said. “I was living the catechism, I guess, but once you actually have that moment where you realize, (Jesus) is actually speaking to me, then all of a sudden everything (becomes) real. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it.” 

In the evening, the St. John Neumann teens joined other WorkCampers from nearby parishes at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly. After dinner in the cafeteria, they played outdoor games such as frisbee, cornhole and volleyball. During the evening program, the local praise band Arlington Worship played music during adoration in the theater. Dozens of teens lined up for confession in the cafeteria. 

Attending the evening program is one of Jeanne Marie Greathouse’s favorite parts of WorkCamp. “Any time you can just be in the moment and be with everyone is the best time,” she said. Greathouse, a parishioner of St. John Neumann, has attended WorkCamp for three years. “My first year, my mom was like, ‘You need to go do service,’ but it was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “It's the people — the entire community that surrounds you and hugs you and welcomes you."

Work Camp South, consisting of St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, St. Matthew Church in Spotsylvania, St. William of York Church in Stafford, St. Jude Church in Fredericksburg, Precious Blood Church in Culpepper and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, had around 115 teens working in the Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and Stafford regions. 

From mixing concrete to cleaning church offices, diocesan youth were kept busy all week serving the community and the church through WorkCamp. 

Jamie Jacksone, a parishioner of St. William of York, worked with her crew at a home in Spotsylvania, constructing a ramp and concrete walkway for a handicapped resident. Jacksone said she appreciated how WorkCamp puts into action the Catholic value of serving others in the community. “It’s really eye-opening,” Jacksone said, while taking a break from mixing concrete. “My favorite part is seeing (the resident) happy. It makes me happy.” 

Jeremy Donfack, of St. Jude, helped Jacksone to lay concrete, something he had never done before. 

“WorkCamp has allowed me to get some new experiences,” Donfack said. “I didn’t know how to do concrete before. I’ll definitely take these skills into my future.” 

Bishop Burbidge processes with the monstrance at an evening program at Bishop O’ Connell High School in Arlington June 22. JIM SALITSKY  |  CATHOLIC HERALD


wc 392Campers maintained a good work ethic while also staying lively and having fun. At one site, a crew from St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception dressed up Wednesday in a “south of the border” theme. Several of them wore straw sombreros while they went around sawing boards for a deck and cutting trim to surround the bottom of the trailer house they were renovating. 

Adam Lenahan, of St. Jude, said WorkCamp is always fun. “It’s a little different this year, but it’s fun,” he said. “It’s really great to be out here serving the community and bringing positivity back after this tough year.” 

Timmy Rohlfs, a parishioner of St. Mary, said he enjoyed interacting with other parishes at the evening program this year. Last year parishes worked and had evening faith formation independently. 

“I like meeting other parishes you would never have met otherwise,” he said. “You can have long and lasting bonds that last forever and that’s really awesome.” 

St. Mary parishioner Keiry Beltran said as a first-time adult leader at WorkCamp she was impressed by how much work went into it. 

“I’m in awe to see how many teens actually give their whole week to do this,” she said. “Because it’s hard. But it’s so fulfilling at the same time. Even though it was so hot on Monday, and was so hard, these kids had a lot of joy on their faces. That inspired me.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021