Helping the Less Fortunate Members of Society

Helping the Less Fortunate Members of Society

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Helping the Less Fortunate Members of Society


Over the past five years I have participated in an organization called "Group Workcamps" through the St. Helena's / St. Mary's Parish. This experience has helped me to grow greatly personally and spiritually. Every year, a group from the church goes out to a small community to repair homes of the elderly, disabled or less fortunate. By participating in this group over the past five years, I have learned many traits including leadership, respect and empathy, as well as building wonderful friendships with others all over the country. Besides these, I have also learned valuable skills such as carpentry, budgeting, planning, and public speaking.


The Workcamp year begins in mid August, when the group for the year assembles for the first time. This is an introductory meeting for the new members and a recap of the previous year for the veterans. At this time we decide where to go the following summer, figure out what we will do for fund-raisers, and how much money we will need to raise over the next 10 to 12 months based upon how many people will be going.


Over the course of the next year or so, it is the responsibility of everyone involved to assist in the raising of the $6,000 or so that will be needed for us to pay for travel expenses, and have some left over in case of an emergency. In order for all of this to come together, everyone needs to take some responsibility in acquiring donations and sponsorships. Every member of our group needs to bring in at least $300 in personal sponsorships. However, since there are usually only around ten of us going, the other $3,000 doesn't just come out of nowhere. We rise before the sun to prepare pancakes for a breakfast in the church hall after Mass. We stand along Route 4 in a drizzling rain trying to convince people to let us wash their cars. We build bird feeders for fun and profit in a frigid shop. We spend sweltering June afternoons in the church parking lot nailing shingles to the roof of a shed we will sell. We present a slide show of last year's Workcamp to the congregation and request donations.


After a retreat and send-off Mass, the real test of our friendship begins.

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Can we endure each other in a packed van for two days as we travel to Workcamp? We will eat, sleep, and sing together while irritating and entertaining each other, amidst the crumbs, soda cans, donut boxes, and stale pizza remnants. If we haven't bonded by now, we're at least stuck together! Finally, we arrive at a school, where we will eat, sleep, and sing together while irritating and entertaining each other, amidst the crumbs, soda cans, donut boxes, and stale pizza remnants for the next week...with three hundred other teens from all over the country. We are each assigned to our work crews, which consist of five people we've never met before, and choose our positions within the crew. Last year, for example, I was the work director: my job was to coordinate the work at our site, ensuring that it was completed on time.


The next day, we travel to our sites and meet our residents. One year, it was an elderly lady who was recently widowed; another year it was a single mother with three children. We assess the site and decide which work should be done first, how long it will take, and what materials we will need. One year, for example, we were supposed to replace the shingles on a porch roof. We ripped the shingles off only to discover that all the plywood underneath had rotted away, and needed to be replaced. We also had to paint and drywall the kitchen and living room and caulk the windows. I have also had to demolish and rebuild porches, and repair cement and foundations.


During the course of the week, our crew learns to work efficiently together. We become good friends. We develop a relationship with our residents. They offer us lemonade and home-baked cookies. Every child in the neighborhood between the ages of six and ten shows up to "help." By the end of the week, we always promise to keep in touch (and we actually do). The last couple of days are spent frantically trying to get the job done in the short time remaining. At last we finish; and share our accomplishments with our residents and volunteer inspectors from Group Workcamps.


Proud, tired, and smelly, we board the van to return to New Hampshire. There are always stories to tell. Remember the time the brakes on the van failed? Remember when a tornado hit the parking lot of the school where we were staying and slammed our trailer through a chain link fence? Remember when the porch I was demolishing nearly fell on top of me? On the way home, we share our experiences of the week, laugh at each other's mishaps, and begin to plan next year's Workcamp.
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