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For years, Toledo resident Ernest Carter, who uses a wheelchair, has been confined to his house because his front door is not handicap accessible.
Thanks to the Catholic H.E.A.R.T. Workcamp, a group of 300 teenagers from throughout the Midwest who are in Toledo this week participating in service projects, he now can leave whenever he desires.
About 10 teens from the camp spent Wednesday building a wheelchair ramp for Mr. Carter, working with staff from the Ability Center of Greater Toledo. The campers moved wood and put together the planks with screws as directed by Ability Center leaders.
Mr. Carter sat on his porch and watched, smiling.
"You just don't know how much this is going to help me," he said. "It's going to start me living all over again."
Mr. Carter, an amputee, has a motorized wheelchair, but getting from his front door to the street was difficult. Now he will be able to move around freely in his neighborhood, and even visit the nearby market, he said.
"The good deeds I've put out [over the years] -- they're coming back now," Mr. Carter said.
The Catholic H.E.A.R.T. Workcamp, founded in 1993, is a national organization that sends teenagers to various service locations all over the country.
Teens often sign up through their local parishes, which then choose that year's camp destination. The campers currently in Toledo will spend the week at 42 area sites, participating in projects that include painting, doing home repairs, building wheelchair ramps, cleaning, landscaping, and building community gardens.
They also will help watch children at local day-care centers for low-income families, interact with elderly residents, and serve meals at local shelters.
The week of service began Sunday and will end Saturday.
This is the sixth year the Workcamp has sent teens to Toledo.
By the end of the week, campers and their adult chaperones -- from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas -- will have logged more than 1,800 volunteer service hours in the cities of Toledo and Oregon.
Katie Cornell, the camp manager, said it is "unbelievable" how productive campers have been this week.
"Whenever Catholic H.E.A.R.T. campers come to town, they come ready to work," Ms. Cornell said. "Part of that is because many of them journey a very long way. They come from such far distances that they have to raise money in order to be here. So when they're raising money, it motivates them."
Teenagers and chaperones are funded by registration fees through their local parishes.
The Catholic H.E.A.R.T. Workcamp also has worked extensively with Toledo GROWs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the growth and success of community-based gardens in Toledo and throughout Northwest Ohio.
Groups have been stationed at the Oneida Greenhouse behind the 1200 block of Cherry Street all week, weeding, planting, digging, and building an aquaculture.
Bryan Ellis is the site facilitator at Oneida Greenhouse. He has worked with campers from Catholic H.E.A.R.T. for three years and said it is amazing how much they can do for Toledo GROWs in just one week.
Last year, campers from Catholic H.E.A.R.T. built the Toledo area's first aquaculture, an enclosed, self-sustaining system that farms tilapia fish and uses the waste from the fish to grow vegetation. Campers built it from start to finish last year and are building a second one this week.
"They dig, level, and then build the actual structure," Mr. Ellis said. "Then they have to line it and fill it with water and dirt."
The campers use Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School as a "home base." After the workday ends around 3 p.m., campers shower and participate in the Rosary at 4:30. They pray, reflect, and enjoy social activities in the evenings.
A recognition program will take place at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at the high school. Residents and agencies are invited to the camp to share stories and express their gratitude.
"We're able to give back to the community in ways deeper than just a physical coat of paint. ... We're able to give back dignity," Ms. Cornell said. "We're giving them a little bit of joy or hope ... Or, like you saw with Ernest, a little bit of freedom."
Contact Sara Felsenstein at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.