Mary Kate Guidici took a brief reprieve from the flower bed she was planting Tuesday morning at the Helping Hands of St. Louis Outreach Center in East Toledo. She had just hauled a soil-filled wheelbarrow in 80-degree heat, and with the sun beating down, she reflected on why she paid more than $300 to spend a week away from home and participate in the Catholic HEART Workcamp for a second straight summer.
“It’s important for me to help others so I can see how fortunate I am and to show them that teens can help out and do as much work as anyone else,” she said.
Mary Kate, 16, of Orland Park, Ill., is one of about 250 teens from 11 parishes or high schools in five states serving in the Toledo area this week as part of the workcamp, a national program based in Orlando, Fla. The goal is to get youths to grow in faith and appreciate serving others, said Katie Cornell, manager of the Toledo camp for the last eight years.
“The bottom line is we’re going out into the community with a servant heart and giving with a servant heart, not because we’re expecting anything in return,” Ms. Cornell said.
Twenty agencies throughout the Toledo area are served by 35 teams of about six students each, Ms. Cornell said. All the students spend the night in classrooms at Cardinal Stritch High School in Oregon, separated by gender with one adult for every five youths. Though students from the same parish or high school sleep in the same classroom, they are split into teams while working to intermingle with other students from all parts of the country.
Most agencies only get help from one or two teams. Helping Hands, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving hot meals to the needy, needed five teams — 30 students — to paint inside the building and plant. The agency has only three paid staff members, director Paul Cook said, so any free labor is welcome.
“[The students] come here, they have a good time, they work, they meet new friends,” he said. “But when these kids are working for me, it’s dollars I don’t have to spend on somebody to do it. It’s where I can put dollars somewhere else more useful.”
The teens arrived Sunday night, with service-work set from Monday through Thursday. Friday is a free day — Cedar Point is popular — and they return home Saturday.
A typical day starts with Mass before students head to their sites. When teams return to Cardinal Stritch, activities vary from skits and dance parties, to Eucharistic adoration and Reconciliation. The goal is a balance of each, Ms. Cornell said.
“The more fun they have with us, the further they’ll go with their spirituality,” she said.
Mary Kate, who worked at a homeless shelter in Mishawaka, Ind., last summer, said she would like to see more time allotted to service than the five hours at Helping Hands each day.
“[I enjoy it], but I also feel like we should have more [work], because that’s the purpose, not to just sit around and hang out,” she said. “It’s to help others.”
The camp began in 1993 and has more than 13,000 participants.
Contact Sam Gans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6516.