by Jan Dixon
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Who would pay $250 for the opportunity to spend four days in the hot, summer sun doing home maintenance and landscaping?
Or sleep each night on the floor of a school?
Catholic youth volunteers from five states did exactly that when 250 of them came to the area for a week in July to do community service work at different locations as part of Catholic HEART Workcamp (CHWC).
Kansas City, Kansas, is only one city in the United States being served by the CHWC this year. The organization, which was launched in 1993 in Orlando, Florida, with 100 volunteers, has now grown to over 13,000 volunteers serving in over 50 locations.
“This is my fourth year as a team captain and my tenth year with CHWC,” said Meghan Condlin, a graduate student from Richmond, Virginia. “We are all called to serve, and I love to work with the youth groups and the residents we serve.”
The youth arrived here on a Sunday night and were housed at St. James Academy in Lenexa. Every morning, Mass was celebrated by Father Andrew Strobl, pastor of St. John Paul II Church in Olathe, and every evening ended with prayer.
Breakfast, dinner, faith-building activities, silly skits, contemporary music and high-energy dance were important components of the day’s schedule. The teens were split up into seven-person work teams and assigned to different projects.
One team headed off to the Sanctuary of Hope retreat center in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, to assist with outdoor landscaping needs.
“We have approximately 33 acres of land,” said Jeff Stock, who maintains the facility and grounds for the center, “and these young people cut down trees and weeds. They hauled away brush and planted a vegetable garden. At least 32 of the acres were impacted by the volunteers.”
“When we got really hot and sweaty and there were lots of complaints,” said camper Shelby Denny from Edmond, Oklahoma, “we just took it to God.”
Many of the work teams spoke about a deepening of their faith during the time they were here.
Lincoln Maher from Owatonna, Minnesota, said, “I came this year because my friends told me it was fun and I thought I would try it. I found a whole new aspect to my faith life because I learned how to pray in depth.”
Most of the teens came as part of their parish youth group with goals of meeting new people, serving and spreading joy.
“By splitting all of the kids up on different teams, they get to know and work with other youth from all over the country,” said Sarah Fleissen, one of the camp managers. “They experience God in a whole new way.”
Cathy Green, youth coordinator from O’Fallon, Illinois, brought 19 young people to the camp and saw the fruits of the effort almost immediately when one of the work teams passed a homeless man on their way to the job site. The teens stopped and collected items from their own lunches and gave them to him.
“It is wonderful for the kids to see how others live and how they can make a difference,” she said.
The residents served said they were humbled and blessed by the efforts of the volunteers. Houses were painted, decks built and windows repaired at some sites, while donated items were sorted for TurnStyles in Olathe and Overland Park and carpet was laid at the convent of the Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ in Kansas City, Kansas.
A little girl at a day care center was taught how to pray the rosary, while apartments were cleaned at a senior living center.
And a homebound resident named Pam, suffering from diabetes and loss of eyesight, had her home repaired by a CHWC team.
“I do not have any children of my own,” she said, “but now I have these seven and I will pray for them always.
“They are my greatest blessing.”
At the end of the week, the teens celebrated their hard work, new friendships and deeper faith. A free day to sightsee and explore culminated the camp experience. They left with the good feeling of knowing they had made a difference.
“This week, I saw myself being Christ-like,” said Meg Doyle. “This is the closest I have ever been to God.”