Wallingford ‘workcampers’ help needy

Volunteers work on a carpentry project in Wallingford.

What may seem like just a little repair work to many of the young people involved in doing it is actually a mammoth gesture of help to the recipients in need.

Last week, Wallingford Workcamp 2018 brought 340 young people and adults from around the country and Canada to town in order for them to donate their time, sweat and carpentry skills to help area homeowners with improvements.

“The people we’re servicing are elderly, disabled and low-income people,” explained Lorraine Westervelt, a coordinator of the program with First Congregational Church, which is working in tandem with Group Mission Trip.

“Our church has gone on a mission trip for the last 10 years,” she said, visiting out-of-the-way communities around the country that have exhibited need, including small towns in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York.

“So we’ve gone elsewhere and done home repair,” she said, “and decided we wanted to bring it to our local area.”

And it turned out the need was somewhat imperative here in this region as well, for more than 100 people applied to have work done on their homes — work they either couldn’t afford or physically had no chance of getting done on their own.

“We screened them all to see which ones were doable projects for us,” Westervelt said, with the 340 participants broken up into groups of five young people and one adult.

“We have 54 different work sites that we’re working on,” she said, with work including porch repair, construction of handicap ramps, various random small carpentry projects, and boatload of both interior and exterior painting projects.

“I really love working in community service,” said Joelle Stellato, 14, of Wallingford, who participated in the Workcamp for the first year, “and I love helping people.”

“I thought this was just a really cool opportunity,” she said.

“I realize that I’m very fortunate and I want to make sure that others (can) have the equal opportunity,” she said. “I love being able to help them do what they need to do and it’s a really cool.”

Close to $30,000 in donations, including money from the individual campers and a sizable gift of $10,000 from the Wallingford Rotary Club, help fund the endeavor, which includes much-needed supplies. The Sheehan High School is also allowing the group to camp there for the week.

Kim Conway of Highland Lakes, N.J. has been involved with seven years and has found a great value in turning the young people on to a service mentality.

“I get enjoyment in teaching the kids about paying it forwards in service,” she said. “That’s, I guess, my sort of ministry to them, and to help guide them to do it.”

Each summer, she said, conditions and experiences will vary — mainly contingent on the heat and weather — but broadly it’s a remarkably positive time for all involved.

“Doing it all together, with other people, you kind of help each other through it,” Conway said, noting the break in the extremely hot weather of several weeks ago was a gift.

“I know it’s gonna be pretty hot and some hard labor,” admitted Anna Sorenson, a 17-year old from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., “but it’ll be worth it to help out those people who can’t afford home imrpovements and can really just better their lives.”

“It’s just nice to know that you can give up your time to help other people that wouldn’t have access to this kind of thing otherwise,” she said, “and it’s really meaningful to do it through your church with a bunch of other people who are here to help people through God.”

Westervelt said the experience is “remarkable” for a variety of reasons, including the reaction of the people being helped.

“The residents are generally people who don’t get to interact with youth a lot (and) the transformation that happens both with their houses and with their souls,” she said, is astounding.

Conway said that the general take-away from the Workcamp — at least as far as most of the young people she has worked with are concerned — is how surprised they are by the amount of appreciation they receive.

“They’re in awe, I want to say. They think that they’ve done nothing and they’ll come up to me and say, ‘It was really no big deal, but the people were just constantly thanking me,’” Conway said.

“So they’re just overwhelmed with the gratefulness,” she said. “The simplest task means the world to people.”

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