Thursday, August 16, 2007

Teens Visit to Perform Service, Gain in Spirit

by Steve Matrazzo

It's not every teen-ager who would give up a week of summer vacation to travel to a strange town to perform public service. Fewer still would be likely to pay $300 for the privilege.

Yet 12 teens from at least five states were doing just that last week here in Dundalk.

They came as participants in the Church of the Brethren's Workcamp Ministry program at the invitation of Dundalk Church of the Brethren and its pastor, the Rev. Andrew Sampson.

Founded in 1988, the Elgin, Ill.-based program is designed to bring young churchgoers into the Church of the Brethren's tradition of community service.

This year, according to Church of the Brethren national workshop coordinator the Rev. Steve van Houten, more than 900 youths will participate in 37 locations across the U.S. and in a handful of foreign countries.

Church of the Brethren parishes suggest projects for each summer's program. This year, Sampson thought his church and the Dundalk area might benefit from hosting a youth work camp.

“We started the process about a year and a half ago,” he recalled, “and just threw our name out there. “Since most of these kids come from very small towns, Dundalk is just the kind of place the program is looking for to expose the kids to something different.”

A dozen teens from states including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana were sent to work in the August heat at the church and with the Community Assistance Network (CAN) and the Family Crisis Center, two organizations with which the local parish has worked closely.

Work at the church included the restoration of 26 pews that took hours each to sand and refinish. According to Mike Hoppe, who supervised the group working at the church, the pews “hadn't been touched since the church was built in 1951.”

Other teens worked in local homes, performing repairs and other tasks for residents designated by CAN and the Family Crisis Center.

One beneficiary of the group's work was a wheelchair-bound Loganview Drive resident whose backyard shed needed roof repairs. On a rainy Thursday, three teens under van Houten's supervision ascended ladders to remove and replace the old roof.

“Part of the emphasis of the Church of the Brethren is service,” van Houten told The Eagle, “and these kids chose to give up a week of their summer to come work and serve.”

All three of the teens working at the residence seemed focused less on their own service than on the personal and spiritual growth they have experienced through the work camp program.

Asked why she chose to take part, 14-year-old Carissa Doody of Union Bridge, Md., said simply, “I just wanted to try it, just as something new.”

When describing what she gained from the experience, however, she was ebullient.

“It was so great to meet [the Loganview Drive woman]. She was so nice and she told us her whole life story. You can learn so much from an older person like that.”

Another plus, she said, was the experience of making new friends who shared her faith.

“It's so nice to be with people you have something in common with,” she said.

Workmate Perry Ellwood, 17, who came to Dundalk from Saluda, N.C., agreed that the fellowship aspect of the camp was gratifying.

“The group setting really uplifts your spirit,” he said.

He also noted the educational benefit of his trip, which included a stop at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., gave him and others a sense of perspective regarding hardship.

“After seeing the museum and learning what people went through [during the Holocaust], I'm not going to complain because my hand hurts from this work,” he said.

The third member of the team that worked at the Loganview Drive residence was Rachel Sain, a 16-year-old from Tryon, N.C., who like Ellwood said the camp experience had given her a new outlook.

“I've always thought, Oh, I can't do this and I can't do that, it's too hard,” she said. “Now I'm here actually doing things I never thought I could. “It makes me feel a lot stronger in myself and in my faith.”

Sampson praised both the teens and the adult leaders who accompanied them to Dundalk.

“They didn't come here as a group,” he said. “They came as small groups or individuals, and by the end of the week they came together as a group.

“They're great kids, and I think the leaders did a great job with them.

“The stuff that they did around here was phenomenal for just a week. They worked around the church and at three different homes that CAN suggested, and they helped the Family Crisis Center with the temporary move they've been making.

“It's great to see young people who are not only going to church but who are actually doing service. What's really amazing is that they were willing to pay money to be here. They can serve as a model for so many others.”

Sampson was so impressed that he allowed the Workcamp Ministry individuals to lead the Sunday worship service that concluded their stay.

“It was just a small way of recognizing how grateful we are,” he said.

Source: Dundalk Eagle

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