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WorkCampers serve closer to home this year

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A sunny yellow Converse sneaker now dominates the circular WorkCamp logo where a sturdy work boot once stood. The boot has been booted, but WorkCamp is still here, looking a little different than in years past. 

Thirty-eight parishes and 700 teens are participating in this year’s WorkCamp Re-Boot June 21- 25. But to better adhere to coronavirus prevention guidelines, instead of congregating at one high school and fixing up nearby homes, crews instead are tackling a variety of projects on parish grounds or nearby. 

“Projects range from building decks, painting, constructing paths for rosary walks, refreshing outdoor Stations of the Cross paths, bicycle repair, food preparation for those in need, food pantry organization, car washes (and) yard work for residents in parish communities,” said Ed Gloninger, diocesan WorkCamp coordinator. 

As in years past, the WorkCamp day begins with Mass and ends with an evening program — a video recap of the day, spiritual talks, music and time for prayer. This year, it was livestreamed.  

Teens from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester are repairing a few of the homes that would have been fixed by WorkCampers before the pandemic moved the camp from Winchester to home parishes.

Gabriel Mosias-Brown digs a hole for a post on a work site in Alexandria June 22. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

lr wc 147 Campers from St. Luke Church in McLean and St. Mark Church in Vienna are turning an old milk house on Turner Farm, a county park in Great Falls, into a chapel. St. Mark parishioner and longtime WorkCamp volunteer Sarah Kirk and her husband, Glenn Zoski, are curators for a five-acre parcel of the property and plan to turn it into a retreat center. 

“It’s amazing,” she said. “In just one day, they’ve painted the roof, put in three windows, (laid 30 feet of ) a stone dust trail, built an Adirondack chair, (and) fixed a fence that we’re going to put a gate in.”

Crews from St. Louis Church in Alexandria are splitting time between projects. Half the group spent Monday morning in the school kitchen seasoning pork and chopping vegetables. After two days of cooking, they plan to drive a refrigerated truck bearing 1,200 meals of pulled pork, mashed potatoes and grilled peppers, broccoli and squash to the weekly Wednesday food distribution at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington. Later in the week, they plan to make meals for Silverado Alexandria Memory Care Community employees and others. 

The rest of the St. Louis teens spent the morning demolishing a deck. Two weeks earlier, parishioner Larry Ferguson’s wife noticed the wood of their next-door neighbor’s deck was rotting and wondered if the WorkCampers could replace it. So, Ferguson gave parish WorkCamp coordinator Tom Canning a call. “And to my surprise he said yes,” said Ferguson. 

Their neighbor, Misrak Woldemichael, was thrilled. “I was so happy, I want God to come bless (the WorkCampers) and their families,” said Woldemichael, an Orthodox Christian. “I don’t have any words to say, just thank you so much.”

Though it wasn’t the WorkCamp experience she was used to, 18-year-old Grace White was grateful to be there. “It was weird at first coming and not being with the whole diocese as usual, but I think it’s very special to connect to just your parish,” she said. “I think it’s just so beautiful that even in a time like this we’re still coming together and helping others.”

“Everything about WorkCamp, I just absolutely love it,” said 16-year-old Jimmy Madden. “One of my favorite parts of WorkCamp was meeting new people and helping others,” he said, as a friend walked up to him and asked for advice on how to wield a power tool. “I don’t get to meet new people here, but I still get to help others and there’s just such a great satisfaction that you get knowing the work you’re doing is for a good cause.”

“Walking in on the first day, I was like, yeah, this is where I want to be for the next few days,” said Kelly Ntambwe, 17. “Especially since we’ve been at home all day just with our families, it's good to see other people and be doing work together. I think helping people who are our neighbors is really special. It shows you don’t really have to go far.”

Though WorkCamp is even more local this year, Ntambwe feels she’s part of something bigger than herself and her parish, gesturing to the lanyard around her neck sporting the WorkCamp 2020 logo. “A huge thank you for people working behind the scenes who printed out the little tags and all the little things to make it feel like we’re actually all one big group at WorkCamp, even though we’re far apart.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020