The Chesapeake Bay Workcamp gives Christian teens from across the country a chance to fix up homes of those in need, form bonds with others and grow in faith.

Projects put values into action

July 01, 2005|By Chris Yakaitis | Chris Yakaitis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Exhausted from a solid morning of house repairs, 15-year-old Jessica Rudolph of Cleveland curled up in a floral-patterned armchair and shut her eyes.

From across her living room, 101-year-old Linthicum resident Helen Becker captured the moment with a disposable camera. "I call her Sleeping Beauty," she said jokingly.

Ten teenagers from across the country had gathered in Becker's living room Tuesday, their brows drenched with sweat, their arms, cheeks and yellow Livestrong wristbands flecked with white paint. They came to Anne Arundel County this week as participants in the first Chesapeake Bay Workcamp, a mission trip for Christian youths co-sponsored by the Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church in Odenton.

After three hours of painting, plastering and pruning at Becker's home of 54 years, the high-school-aged volunteers paused around noon for ham sandwiches, Gatorade and conversation with their host.

Motioning to one of two birdcages in the room, Davis Baratta, 14, of Pittsburgh asked, "Is that a parrot or a parakeet?"

"He's a lovebird," Becker said, frowning lightly at the squawking bird. "But he isn't very lovable right now."

After a devotions period in which the teens and two volunteer adult co-workers discussed values and Bible passages in light of their projects and interactions, the group fanned out in pairs and trios across the house to resume the morning's work: trimming the outside bushes, spackling tiny cracks in the bathroom ceiling and repainting the basement and kitchen.

"I told them my kitchen needed doing," Becker said. "I didn't know they were going to do the whole place!"

The volunteers at Becker's house represented two of 67 work crews conducting maintenance and basic repairs at 51 homes throughout the county. On Sunday, 318 teens and 78 adults from as far away as Arizona converged at the work camp's home base at Old Mill High School in Millersville - where they eat in the cafeteria and sleep in the classrooms - to begin the weeklong Christian service program.

"God wants us to care for people, and in that process we grow spiritually," said Eric Lohe, a pastor from Indianapolis and the work camp's co-director. "That's a real important foundation [of the work camp]. If there's a need out there, we will help them if we are able to."

After arriving at Old Mill, the campers were quickly dispersed into work crews for the week, typically with five teens and one adult each. The crews first visited their sites Monday to assess materials they would need, set project goals and divvy up tasks for the week. They reported to their assigned houses every morning at 8:30 and worked until around 3 p.m., with an earlier stop time Wednesday to enable the visitors to tour Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington, the Chesapeake Bay or the Eastern Shore.

The volunteers reconvened every night at Old Mill for a reflection period based on the camp's theme: "Living Inside Out," or growing spiritually from internal values and expressing those values through service-oriented action.

After completing their repair projects today, the camp participants will depart for their home states tomorrow morning.

For Nichols-Bethel Church, the Chesapeake Bay Workcamp is the culmination of nearly five years of planning and preparation. The program was coordinated with the Group Workcamps Foundation, a nonprofit Christian organization based in Loveland, Colo., that began sponsoring summer work camp programs nationwide after a Colorado flood relief effort involving church youth groups in 1977. The group is sponsoring more than 50 work camps nationwide this summer.

After participating in work camps elsewhere for more than a decade, local co-leader Vicki Jordan, along with other Nichols-Bethel members, decided to establish a program here that could "reach out to some of that need in Anne Arundel County, right at our doorsteps," she said.

Student and adult participants paid $400 each to help cover costs of the program. The national organization assigned two paid program directors and four college students to help manage the camp. The rest of the human and material resources consisted of volunteers and contributions solicited by Nichols-Bethel Church - including about $19,000. The church publicized the work camp through newspapers, fliers and word-of-mouth, and turned to county organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Partners in Care and the Department of Aging for help finding elderly and low-income individuals whose homes needed repairs.

The ability to host a work camp also hinged on Nichols-Bethel's securing a facility large enough to house such a large influx of visitors. To fill that requirement, Jordan approached the Anne Arundel County Board of Education two years ago.

"It's unprecedented, really, to allow people to spend the night and be here in an Anne Arundel County school," she said. "It's a pretty amazing decision that the Board of Education made. They have been great."

Beyond the painted walls, replaced doors and repaired windows, the staff said the nondenominational work camp helps participants grow in faith, find joy in service and form connections with a variety of people.

"It unites a number of people who would not otherwise be united," Lohe said. "We hope that our intent is lived out in the way that [the teens] actually experience camp."

At Becker's house in Linthicum, the work camp seemed to meet its goals successfully.

"It's been great to see the look on her face," said Nicole Adams, 16, of Cheshire, Conn. "She's just the best."

Becker was equally impressed with her new teenage friends.

"It's really wonderful that you see so many young people willing to do something for nothing," she said. "I want to get all of their names and addresses before they go so that I can send them a card at Christmastime."

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