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Teens hammer with heart and soul at Arlington diocesan WorkCamp

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Trading cell phones for hammers and saws, 830 youths came together at Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg for the 32nd diocesan WorkCamp June 23-29, sponsored by the diocesan Office of Youth, Campus and Young Adult Ministries.

With a goal each year of making homes warmer, safer and drier, 160 crews from 43 parishes will repair eight roofs, install hundreds of windows, and build decks and wheelchair ramps at 135 project sites in eight counties: Stafford, Spotsylvania, Carolina, Culpeper, King George, Hanover, Louisa and Orange.

Ed Gloninger, WorkCamp coordinator, said the event is an intentional Christian community to provide an opportunity of direct service for the youths of the diocese.

“Our mission is to bring the youths closer to Jesus through direct service,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to go and serve those in their diocese.”

Not only does WorkCamp involve more than 800 teenagers, much of the behind-the-scenes work is done by more than 160 young adult volunteers.

“At WorkCamp we have a strong community of young adults who return each year to focus on providing an excellent week of service for teenagers of the diocese,” said Kevin Bohli, director of the diocesan Office of Youth, Campus and Young Adult Ministries. “We have had more than 10,000 teens participate in WorkCamp over the years and serve on 2,000 different projects.”

He said the work makes an impact in the lives of the community.


For three years, WorkCampers have transformed the living spaces at Loisann’s Hope House in Fredericksburg, an organization helping homeless children and families from Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties. The house, founded by members of St. George’s Episcopalian Church in Fredericksburg more than 30 years ago, is the first and largest family homeless shelter in the Fredericksburg area. With four houses, it can assist 16 families at a time.

The WorkCampers, as in the past, tore up old carpeting and installed new flooring in the bedrooms. 

Jennifer Taylor, shelter operations manager, said the change in flooring makes a difference to the look and feel of the place. “It has made a big change in our entire way of keeping things clean,” Taylor said. “It is healthier and cleaner, and everyone is happier. It couldn’t have been done without that support.”

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WorkCampers interact with the children at Loisann’s Hope House, and the residents join the morning and afternoon prayers with the WorkCampers.

“It is exciting for the residents to interact with people who are caring, and the youths are always outstanding examples,” said Taylor. “We feel blessed to be participants.”

Lisette Pena, a group leader at the Hope House, is a parishioner of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly. She hopes the youths get a sense of connection with the community and with each other. “For myself, I just to find a different way to connect and a deeper level of connection with God,” she said. “I want to make sure the youths have a good time while they are serving others.”

Ken Lowe is a single father with six children under the age of 14. He and his family are known as fixtures in the community and they help their neighbors any way they can. WorkCampers weatherproofed his windows, painted the outside of the home and fixed the railings on his porch.

The impact of WorkCamp is both in the building and in the relationships. Lowe said his children have the opportunity to help the WorkCampers and develop friendships that last long after the WorkCampers have gone home.

Many WorkCampers return several times to help with construction projects.

“After the project is finished and I see the look on the resident’s face, and it’s filled with joy, I know that I’ve done a good deed,” said Matt Widra, a parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Reston, who is participating as a WorkCamper for the third time. “I am so thankful for them letting (us) into their house to work.”

Mariane Leite, assistant director of youth and young adults at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, brought a group of 15 teens from the parish. This is her first year and she has enjoyed the experience so far. “I have had a great time, everyone is so welcoming and loving,” she said. “Everyone is enthusiastic and excited to get to work and get things done (with) a positive attitude.”

WorkCamp involves multiple generations. This year, Virginia Cavander, her daughter and grandson are all part of WorkCamp. Cavander, here for the second year, works in the nurse’s station.  “Helping the youths, whether it’s for a blister or homesickness, it has been a fulfilling experience,” she said. 

After the students of Massaponax High School have moved out, for the third year, the entire school is transformed into sleeping rooms for WorkCampers, volunteers and adults. The auditorium becomes a chapel and a another room becomes a place to listen to music or hear talks in the evening.

Principal Joseph A. Pisani said WorkCamp provides a value to both his students who participate and the community. Pisani said their work is more from a facility logistics standpoint — making sure there’s computer and phone access; making sure the school is ready to have the volunteers stay there; ensuring adequate electrical connections and electricity to run things like the shower trailers.

“The youths get the sense of doing something for others that is important and it’s not something that teenagers get to always focus on,” said Pisani. 

WorkCampers attend Mass daily and evening activities. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge is expected to celebrate Mass June 27. An intentional Christian community that boasts 1,300 to 1,400 members, according to Bohli, are joined by six priests for the entire week, with an additional 45 priests to hear confessions; four seminarians; two religious sisters; 181 contractors; 230 adult leaders; 228 adults for security; and 130 homebase volunteers.

The WorkCampers will be joined June 29 by the residents they helped throughout the week to celebrate and learn about the difference they made.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018