Summer camp to some youth means swimming, basketweaving, archery, and fun. When “Workcamp” kids (ages 12-17) and their chaperones and mentors think of summer camp, it is a week of painting, building, repairing and devotions…oh, and fun!
This week, a group of close to 400 youth and adults from U.S. East Coast cities travelled to Lyons to spend a week helping repair, paint and build for those in need. They were housed at the Lyons Middle/High School, dormitory style with showers, sleeping arrangements and meals provided, in a camp-like setting.
Workcamp is a week-long youth mission trip experience. Workcamps are basically a mission trip and a summer camp in one! Big, fun, high energy but meaningful and life-changing at the same time.
Service projects are determined by the most pressing needs of the communities served. Project crews are divided into small teams (typically 1 adult to 5 young people) to promote strong friendships within each crew…and to build meaningful relationships with the people being served.
Prior to the group arriving in a town, a local work group is formed to fundraise, arrange accommodations, and recruit workers (youth and adult). They must also secure approximately 70 homes in need of repair. 100% of the funds raised go directly to the projects identified. A call went out back in March, seeking elderly, handicapped, or low income residents in need of repair and improvement projects.
Funding is a partnership between Group Workcamps Foundation and the co-sponsor, in this case Erie Canal Group Work Camp. The co-sponsor provides a predetermined contribution, usually $19,000 or more in a two year time frame. Then, the Foundation provides $8,000-$12,000. All money remains in the community served. The co-sponsor is also responsible for finishing any incomplete projects at the end of the week, if any.
Lyons Code Enforcement Officer, Mike Nelson visited the sites over the week long event to oversee the work. “I am so impressed with their efforts. I watched kids working in high temperatures and then the pouring rain, and the smiles never disappeared. It is a wonderful sight,” said Nelson.
Erie Canal Group Work Camp gathered construction-knowledgeable volunteers and staff to prepare estimates and project descriptions. The materials needed are determined and brought to the site each day to be ready for the crews.
“Although painting seems to be our “major”, we build handicap ramps, repair stairs and porches, and do some roof projects as well,” said Frank Clarke, who is the Project Manager of the co-sponsoring group, funded by Group Cares and the Lyons Methodist Church youth group.
Frank became involved after his daughter, Amber, 18, joined a work camp four years ago in Lyons, and has spent every year away at other camps up the East Coast for her mission work.
“I’ve really found myself, and met wonderful people,” said the bubbly young woman.
The homeowners who are served are invited to become involved with the campers and to join them for devotions as well. Each group is divided into students from different areas, rather than staying in groups of their own friends. It helps to promote friendships and bonding, and everyone learns from each other.
The groups and their chaperones and leaders stay together throughout the week. Most of the projects are meant to be about 4 days long, and with a group the size of this one, the 70 or so projects can easily be accomplished. Bible reading, devotionals, and Christian-based skits are also a part of the week, and a half day field trip is usually planned for sightseeing.
Kris Vanderlinde, one of the coordinators from the Erie Canal Group is also involved because of her daughter. 16-year old April Vanderlinde, attends each year and is working locally this year in Lyons.
Jac Cattell of Fitzhugh, Mass. has been an adult chaperone in the past, but this year came as a volunteer/worker with this wife and kids. “I usually sit at home and do consulting work and get paid; this is fulfilling and unpaid, but I get so much from it, and from the kids,” he acknowedged. His workgroup of both boys and girls were repairing a roof, and rebuilding a porch at one home on Phelps Street. In the 90 degree heat, no one was complaining and all had huge smiles on their faces, giggling as they worked.
While interviewing the crew on Maple Street, a couple of women from the Yates County Housing Council stopped by the site to request information, so that their county and their Council of Churches might pursue a similar project.
In Lyons alone, it is estimated that over the week, the group of 400 will give 12,000 hours of volunteer labor worth more than $110,000 to the community.
Mission work is catching on. Several other groups are working and providing fellowship for the youth and residents in Wayne County.
A “Week of Hope” work camp is providing projects in Newark. The sister organization of Group Cares provides different types of work on one day projects, such as window washing, cleaning and gardening.
This will mark the fourth year of the Youth Impact Wayne County “One Week” workcamp in Marion, which will take place on Sunday, August 7 through Friday, August 12, 2011. Students will be housed at Marion High School and travel to worksites thought the county each day. There is a cost to become involved, which covers meals and materials.
Ontario volunteers will host “Reach Ontario” work camp in July of next year, cosponsored by several churches and community service groups in Wayne County. They will handle free home repairs for community members in need. Materials and labor are donated. Work includes painting, drywall, roofing, porches, steps ramps and more. Applications of home owners are being taken until September 1st, 2011 at www.firstpresontario.org or by calling (315) 524-8561. If interested in learning more about Workcamp, or Group Cares, go to www.groupworkcamps.org.