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Archives Heart Work Camp gives teens chance to serve

July 17, 2019

By Darcy Fargo

SARANAC LAKE – Thanks to the efforts of 250 teens and their adult chaperones, 85 worksites – mostly private Heart Camphomes and churches – were cleaned, improved and inspired during the Catholic Heart Work Camp held June 23 to 29.

Now in its fifth year in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, this year’s Catholic Heart Work Camp drew participants from around the northeastern U.S. Many of the participants traveled to North Country Community College, the home base for this year’s camp, with their youth groups and chaperones.

“Everyone is on a team,” said Angela Bashaw, a parishioner of St. Mary’s of the Fort in Fort Covington and one of the camp’s managers. “Teams are usually five to six teens and at least one adult. We mix all the kids up, so they don’t just stay with the groups they came with. They meet people from other groups, the work together, and they form new friendships.”

Each day at camp starts with a morning Mass and breakfast. Then the teams head to their work sites.
Work sites were identified working with the local Catholic parishes, social service organizations and through social media. The youth, grades 9 through age 21, performed a wide range of tasks, including cleaning, painting, yard work and stacking firewood.

In addition to performing much needed labor, the youth participate in ministry, as well.

“We emphasize the ministry isn’t just the work, it’s also visiting residents, having conversations,” said Jocelyn Kelly, a parishioner of St. Mary’s of the Fort in Fort Covington and a camp manager. “A lot of the homeowners are lonely. Yes, the work getting done is important, but the intangible stuff is perhaps more important. These young people are a witness to their faith by serving others and being the hands and feet of Christ. That’s what they emphasize here, and we see it happen.”

The work has a profound impact on some of the homeowners.

“The homeowners on one of our worksites were resistant when we first arrived,” said Francesca Durant, a chaperone who traveled to the camp with a youth group from Glastonbury, Connecticut. “They did not seem happy to see us, even though they signed up for this. But they kept kind of warming up, then warming up a bit more. By the end, he was sitting with us, and he asked each kid questions. At the end, he told us, ‘I said yes to having kids come do chores. I didn’t know they’d bring so much joy. You watch TV and see violence, racism, bullying and problems with teens. You give me hope for the future.’”

“The kids blew his mind, and he blew the kids’ minds sharing that with them,” added Tim Dunne, also a chaperone from Glastonbury, Connecticut. “I was thinking about it. This isn’t us doing this. We’re just reflecting a bigger light. We just hold the mirrors.”

It also had a profound impact on the teens and their chaperones.

“We did multiple sites today,” said Kirk Whiteman, who attended the camp chaperoning a group from Killingworth, Connecticut. “One of the homes was a tough case. It was in really bad shape. The kids were just so sad to see it. I told them it was a good reminder that they need to count their blessings. And it was a blessing that they were here to touch these people with their actions.”

“For the last three days, I’ve been at a house owned by a resident whose granddaughter lives with her,” said Colin Luca, 18, of Glastonbury. “It was mess. Yard work hadn’t been done in a year. Now, the yard looks great, the cabinets are painted, as are the walls in the kitchen. The ceiling is painted. Missing tiles were replaced in the ceiling. It feels great to see how much of a difference we made. It also made me feel like I have everything I need. It made me more grateful.”

“One of the sites we went to was house where there had been hoarding,” added Jack Kantor, 17, also of Glastonbury. “We cleaned the space and made it livable again. It was a big change, and the resident was very emotional seeing the change. It feels good to see how we can help others. And it made me appreciate what I have and how I live.”

After the work is completed for the day, the youth returned to North Country Community College, where they would have an opportunity to shower, eat dinner and participate in night programs, which included Adoration, talks and skits, music and other activities.

“This has been a great location,” said Luca, who was on his fourth year at Catholic Heart Work Camp, each year at a different site. “The area is beautiful. The campus is really nice, and the food has been really great. This is the best place we’ve been.”

Catholic Heart Work Camp hopes to return to the diocese next year, though dates and locations have not yet been finalized.

To learn more, visit heartworkcamp.com.

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