by Katie Hyde
Special to the Leaven
Kansas City, Kan. — Cassidy Mohl holds down the pages of the book on the table while Antalei slowly sounds out the words.
“Rosie the hen,” the second-grader says slowly, “went for a walk.”
Surrounding the pair is a din of noise, and a bustle of students, volunteers and teachers. But Mohl never loses focus, smiling at Antalei when she stumbles over confusing words.
And with Mohl’s encouragement, Antalei quickly finishes her book and immediately moves on to the next one, grinning from ear to ear.
This is a moment like many others this past July, as campers from all over the Midwest participated in Kansas City’s Catholic HEART Workcamp (CHWC), volunteering in small groups with various local service agencies across the metro area.
Catholic HEART Workcamp, a program first introduced 18 years ago in Orlando, Fla., started out with 100 campers.
Since then, the camp has gone on to include more than 12,500 campers in 45 cities and 450 parishes across the country and in Jamaica. This is the first year that the camp has been held in Kansas City. Due to the many hands eager to volunteer, organizers had to divide the camp into two separate weeks.
The campers, all teenagers, stayed at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park July 17-23 and at St. James Academy in Lenexa July 24-30. The campers undertook home repairs, cleaning, landscaping and tutoring children at local day care centers in low-income communities.
“After 24 hours here, [the campers] realize how much they have at home,” said Kelly Naas, who works in public relations for the national CHWC office.
Cynthia Gabrish, a camper from Moore, Okla., who spent some time during the camp rebuilding a deck for a Christmas in October home, agreed with Naas.
“[CHWC] is life-changing,” Gabrish said. “It makes your look at things differently and realize you have the perfect house.”
Although there are many camps that focus on mission work, Naas said it is the Catholic element of CHWC that makes the camp special.
“The Gospels tell us to serve,” Naas said. “In Kansas City, we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We encourage [the campers] to see God in the faces of others.
“We tell them, ‘You are touching a life, not just a week.’”
Catholic HEART: By the numbers
10 traveling college-aged employees
100 campers at the first camp in 1993 in Orlando, Fla.
22 camps in 2001
5000 campers in 2001
$300- $340 for national camps
45 cities served by the camp this year
12,500 campers this year
300 campers at the first Kansas City camp