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home : features : people of faith

7/25/2013 9:01:00 AM
VOLUNTEERING
WorkCamp gives Catholic youth a chance to shine
Kieran Gurney, a WorkCamp participant, paints a duplex that houses adults with developmental disabilities run by Alternatives In Mankind. The painting work was a project of Rebuilding Together Saratoga. Bottom, WorkCamp organizer Carol Boltzer and participant Morgan Ose receive communion from Rev. Matthew Wetsel of Holy Trinity parish in Johnstown and Holy Spirit in Gloversville during Mass at the camp's
Kieran Gurney, a WorkCamp participant, paints a duplex that houses adults with developmental disabilities run by Alternatives In Mankind. The painting work was a project of Rebuilding Together Saratoga. Bottom, WorkCamp organizer Carol Boltzer and participant Morgan Ose receive communion from Rev. Matthew Wetsel of Holy Trinity parish in Johnstown and Holy Spirit in Gloversville during Mass at the camp's "home base," Christ the King Spiritual Life Center in Greenwich. (Angela Cave photos)
BY ANGELA CAVE
STAFF WRITER

Despite oppressive heat and a broken-down van, 19 young Catholics from the Albany Diocese kept their complaints to a minimum during last week's WorkCamp, a three-day community service blitz.

"Although it's hot outside, it's worth it," 15-year-old Jovanna D'Alonzo declared after a long morning of pulling weeds, hauling mulch and picking vegetables at the Albany Catholic Worker house's community gardens. "As long as it's helping someone else, I'm good with it."

On the way to the next volunteer site, Jovanna's group got stuck in downtown Albany when their van died. She brushed that off, too: "The car could have broken down on the highway. Everything happens for a reason."

The group missed their scheduled time to help backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Track, but encountered a passerby who requested a few of their bagged lunches. This was one of many teachable moments about poverty and Catholic social teachings during the program, which is sponsored by St. Clement's and St. Peter's parishes in Saratoga Springs and includes participants from Our Lady of Victory in Troy and St. Michael the Archangel in South Glens Falls.

Service and faith
Now in its 14th year, the overnight WorkCamp sends Catholic youth to a variety of service sites during the day. Evenings bring time for prayer, fun and discussion of their experiences in the context of social justice. This year, they also made cards for victims of recent flooding in Fort Plain (see story on page 1).

Jovanna's best friend and fellow St. Clement's parishioner, Kaitlin Surber, said the WorkCamp has inspired her to "appreciate what I have a lot more.

"I feel closer to people," continued Kaitlin, also 15. "You see how their living conditions are. It's good to try new things, and I felt like it would help me see the world differently."

The girls plan to volunteer more and return to the camp as peer leaders. Jovanna, who also attends the Diocese's Vietnamese Apostolate, pointed out that volunteering is part of the Catholic package: "If they don't do the deeds, then they're not really living God's word."

Boys' view
Jovanna's 13-year-old brother, Joseph, liked painting a house for adults with developmental disabilities through a project called Rebuilding Together Saratoga.

"It helps them live more peacefully and live in a better environment," Joseph said. "It gives them the quality of living they deserve, because they can't provide it for themselves. The time we put in yesterday - we don't really feel it anymore. But the people we helped will feel it for a long time."

Thomas Eaton, 12, an Our Lady of Victory parishioner, enjoyed making bracelets with adult daycare participants and playing Monopoly with nursing home residents at Pleasant Valley adult facility in Argyle. It took many hands to set up tables in the site's dining hall.

"We learned the importance of helping others [and] the importance of teamwork," he said.

Thomas is often confronted by school friends about his faith. "All of them are atheists," he said. "They're always telling me there's no God [and] there's no Jesus."

But WorkCamp is helping him stand his ground: "I believe in what I believe in."

Fitting in
Noah Companion, 13, of St. Clement's parish, has also had issues with classmates. The bullying got so bad that he had to switch schools.

"I get hyper a lot," he explained. "Usually kids won't talk to me then, but kids [here] still talk to me, so it makes me feel wanted [and] accepted."

Noah enjoyed rebuilding a fence near the Catholic Worker property that had been damaged by drug dealers before the community started a garden there.

"We were told on the first day that it's the little things we do that make a difference," he said. "I think it's bringing us closer to God. And we're setting an example. Some people don't like Christians, but doing this gives us another advantage in their minds."

Randy Rivers, a WorkCamp chaperone and lay minister at St. Clement's, taught the group how to use a handsaw for the fence project. There were times during the week when Mr. Rivers wanted to stop; he struggled with arthritis, a bee sting and heat exhaustion. But the young participants "made me feel good enough to get up and finish," he said.

Great generation
"You hear so much about how the world is going to crud" and that the next generation is rudderless, Mr. Rivers said, "but we'll be in better shape by the time they get older. It just revitalizes me every time I'm here."

Mr. Rivers is impressed by the youth, but not surprised by their generosity. "This is actually who kids [of their generation] are," he said. The WorkCamp just "gives them the avenue to do it."

He said it's important to connect Catholic faith with everyday life: "If we continue to make it, 'This is your religion,' and not, 'This is your life,' there will always be this separation. Religion and life should be together."

Bailey Bennett, 13, of St. Peter's parish, said Catholics shouldn't be the only ones participating in programs like the WorkCamp: "Everybody should be doing this. It should be spread everywhere."





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