That Sunday afternoon, when we walked onto the worksite, there were foul smells, piles of junk and dangling weeds that covered the wood and ground of the structure that was our assigned “house.” After taking a second to look around, all I could think was, “How could someone live here?” When we walked toward the house, a lady came outside smiling to welcome us to her home. She introduced herself as Ms. J. and gave us a tour of her five-room house. The floors were nowhere to be seen, as they were piled with junk; the living room had a gaping hole in the ceiling that allowed you to see the sky outside; the roof was unusable; and the bathroom plumbing did not work. Yet Ms. J. was smiling and making jokes the whole time she was giving the tour. She was so excited to welcome us into her home, displaying great pride in everything that she had. This was the beginning of my first real experience with our church WorkCamp.
WorkCamp is a program through the Diocese of Arlington, Va., that allows teens to come together through work and prayer. When my crew first saw Ms. J’s house, we were amazed. There was lots of hard work to be done. It was the middle of the summer and sweltering hot. Now I am not a person who loves doing things that I have no control over. I enjoy being a leader, being in charge and not necessarily branching out to others, but I realized that with WorkCamp this would not be the case. It took not only the opinions of all six teenage crew members to figure out what work needed to be done but also the help of our experienced, adult contractor. Slowly but surely we began our week filling dumpsters with weeds, rotted wood and fallen plaster.
At WorkCamp, every morning begins with a 6 a.m. wakeup followed by morning Mass. Prayer is a major part of the experience, with daily intentions, prayers before meals, adoration, talks and songs every night. Kids are encouraged to branch out of their comfort zones, use new tools that they have never seen before, talk to other campers that they may never have imagined being friendly with and leave the outside world for the week at camp. This experience of being open, honest and present is not always easy, especially if it is with a group of people that you have never met before and do not know.
During WorkCamp, I really began to see the virtues of faith, hope and love all put together. It was amazing to see others who really wanted to make a difference. Usually when you go to something like this there is still a good portion of people who don’t want to be there, but at WorkCamp, I saw that almost everyone was there because they wanted to help others.
My crew soon became a special part of my life. Every day we would wake up, go to Mass and breakfast together, then soon head out to our worksite, Ms. J’s house. Every day we would make jokes while working, tell each other stories about our lives and friends back home and sometimes even squabble about the best way to complete a project. We would pray before lunch and all sit down together, take a break and talk all at once. This group of people became my family for the week.
I soon began to realize that not only was I with an amazing group of people, but I could see God shining though each and every one of them. Through J. T. in his hard, unrelenting work ethic; Kate in her gentle attitude, always being a positive motivator when things became tough; Peter with his friendliness, always making sure that others were doing the task that they were best at or enjoyed the most; Maria through her motherly gentleness being the responsible leader of our crew; John as the patient contractor kindly helping us learn to use new tools and fixing our mistakes as we went along; and Declan, being a helpful presence doing everything asked of him and even taking on the grueling task of emptying the dumpsters. I learned positivity, loyalty, kindness and friendship through each and every one of these people in special ways that have affected me today.
Over the course of the week I watched as we tore apart the rotting deck, rebuilt the entire deck, weeded the yard, plastered the roof, created a wheelchair ramp and became close with new people in a way I never imagined possible. Though the work was hard it was rewarding, especially because I was able to open up in a new way by letting others lead and witnessing God through my encounter with them.