Handymen bring hope by renovating homes of elderly during summer camp

August 03, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer Maureen Rice contributed to this article.

Humanitarian handymen from Eldersburg gave an aging house in Western Maryland a shiny new exterior and its elderly owners a renewed hope.

The six-member team from Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church gave a week of its time and hours of labor scraping, sanding and painting the home as part of a project at the interdenominational Camp Hope in Allegany County.

Camp Hope stands for Christian Appalachian Maryland Project -- Helping Other People Enthusiastically.

"You can have a good time and work for other people, too," said Brian Field, 16, one of four teens who attended the camp from the South Carroll church.

The smiles on the homeowners' faces proved the camp lives up to its name, said Scott Caperton, director of the Wesley Freedom's youth group and "labor organizer."

"We were doing something for someone who couldn't do for themselves," said Kurt Long, 14. "We could tell we had really made a difference. The house looked really neat after we finished."

About 10 gallons of exterior paint, repaired siding, and new sidewalks, steps and porch contributed to that neat look.

Their July vacation was lots of work and little play, but it made the teens and two adults who worked with them proud.

"A lot of people willingly give spare change and leftover time to others," said Mr. Caperton, who took a week of his annual vacation for the project. "It's not really a gift until it comes out of your storehouse."

The Christian work camp sponsored by the United Methodist Church began in 1977 when 12 volunteers repaired two homes. In 16 years, it has expanded to 296 volunteers and 51 homes, said Cindy L. Thomas, camp director, who has started a waiting list for volunteers in 1994.

"The balance between spiritual and hands-on activities helps make this program succeed," she said.

Ms. Thomas said she has found no shortage of volunteers or homes needing repair.

"This is a low-income area with a high population of elderly living on fixed incomes," she said. "Some homes are in bad shape; others just need basic maintenance."

Youth groups with adult organizers from around the state volunteer for one week of the four scheduled. Each session fields about 80 campers, who live on the campus of Frostburg State University.

Westminster United Methodist, Calvary United Methodist in Gamber and Calvary in Mount Airy also sent volunteers to the camp.

"Most residents are so happy to have kids there for a week," Ms. Thomas said. "Many live alone and really enjoy the fellowship."

And, with a week away from home, the workers can devote all their attention to the renovation projects, she said.

"The camp lets people focus on spirituality and mission work with their friends," she said.

People willingly gave their time and sweat, Mr. Caperton said.

Most of the repairs can be done with a handyman's skills.

"Anyone with a knack for fixing can do this work," Mr. Caperton said. "We had no break from the heat. The week was mostly all work, but we did have one of the better houses to work on."

Brian Earp, 16, said the work helped him develop new skills and "gave us all a chance to help somebody."

"We are fortunate, and we should help the less fortunate," he said.

The South Carroll High student, who helped paint the two-story frame home, said he had done enough painting for this summer.

But, while cleaning and replacing rain gutters, he did learn invaluable lessons in bee removal.

One of his favorite photos is a shot of about 30 hives -- taken gingerly from eaves and gutters -- surrounded by a dozen cans of insect repellent. The crew remained stingless.

The volunteers spent daylight hours in prayer and work on the house.

The homeowner had severe emphysema and his elderly wife couldn't tackle a ladder, Brian Field said.

"They couldn't do any of the work," he said. "We really made a difference for them."

Adult team member Tom Field said, "Many of the older people were raised without TV, and they haven't adjusted to just sitting and watching the tube.

"They love to talk, and one of the things we do is just to talk with them. They are just thrilled to have company. We really get to know one another. Some of the crews went back to visit the places they worked last summer, or the year before."

Months of planning and fund-raising preceded the group's departure from Eldersburg last month. The trip cost $1,150 for lodging, meals and building supplies.

The church sponsored a yard sale and donated a month of Communion offerings toward the cost. George's IGA food store kicked in $250.

Wesley Freedom's pastor, the Rev. Richard McCullough, is enthusiastic enough about Camp Hope to assist other churches that would like to send a team to the camp.

"Anyone who is interested in Camp Hope can call me," he said, "and I'll direct them to the proper person."

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