More than 1,300 diocesan youth, adults and religious joined to make WorkCamp 2017 another rousing success.
By: Kevin Bohli, Director, Youth Ministry
Many in the Arlington Diocese are familiar with WorkCamp; the annual event in which over 1,300 youth and adults gather together within our Diocese to repair more than 100 homes. However, unless you have been to WorkCamp, you are probably unfamiliar with the community of WorkCamp.
WorkCamp is an “intentional Christian community.” We intentionally design everything about the week of WorkCamp to mimic as closely as possible how the early Church described life in the Acts of the Apostles:
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)
This scripture passage is often referenced at WorkCamp as our motivating purpose. We begin each day with Mass, we pray many times throughout the day, we share all things in common, we eat the same food, we sleep on the same hard school floor, and we serve those in need within our community. As WorkCamp has grown, and the number of parishes participating has increased, it is not a stretch for a young person to see that we are a community serving others within our community. Many teens are serving on a work crew where at least one of their five coworkers lives within a few miles of their worksite.
WorkCamp is filled with many beautiful stories of how the community has grown over the years. For example, just last year Jacob Ivory, a high school junior from St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Spotsylvania worked on a crew that built a wheelchair ramp at Tylik Lucas’ house. Once back at school in September, Jacob saw Tylik and the two continued a friendship that had started at the worksite. Tylik soon asked if he could become a part of the youth ministry program at St. Matthew’s. Jacob volunteered to drive out of his way each week to pick up Tylik, bring him to the parish youth ministry program, and became a part of the team attending WorkCamp. Sometimes in a Christian community we are the one serving, and sometimes we are the one being served.
Another incredible part of the WorkCamp community is the more than 170 contractors who teach the young people how to complete the construction projects. By having a contractor on each site, WorkCamp is able to make a significant impact on the lives of the residents whom we are serving. Each year the community of WorkCamp builds dozens of wheelchair ramps and emergency exits, replaces hundreds of windows, and seals or completely replaces many roofs. Through the generosity of the volunteer contractors, the WorkCamp community achieves the goal of making homes “warmer, safer and drier”. One such contractor is Paul Guilloux. Paul attended WorkCamp for four years as a teen in the early 2000s. WorkCamp showed him how much he enjoyed home repair and after graduating from high school he began his own construction company in the Stafford area that he continues to run today. Paul returns each year to WorkCamp as a contractor and brings some of his employees to do the same.
Behind the scenes of a community are those unsung heroes who perform all of the grunt work and receive very little credit or reward; the volunteers who fill 320 water coolers or sort 1,500 lunches at 2 a.m. so that the teens will be able to take them to site at 8 a.m.
…of the enormous homebase team breaking out in song after a late night meeting highlights the joy found in being a servant within this Christian community. These are not volunteers who we begged to come to WorkCamp, or require ongoing praise to keep them focused. They don’t even benefit from directly serving the less fortunate or participating in the daily evening program. They spend literally every waking hour (and then some) doing the mundane tasks to allow the community to function smoothly. The homebase team grows each year because of the contagious joy found in a community focused on living the Gospel message.
There are other service opportunities and work camps across the country in which parishes can participate . They are often easier on the parish to attend and do not require the same commitment to the community of WorkCamp that we require. However, it is the added effort that goes into forming the Diocesan WorkCamp community that makes a difference. When a teen spends a week with the countless priests, sisters, teens, contractors, seminarians, and adult leaders from their own parishes and neighborhoods, (and even two Bishops!) they learn that the community of the Catholic Church right here at home is the perfect place to serve and remain rooted in Jesus Christ for the rest of their lives.