WEST HARTFORD – More than 250 local and New England-region teens descended on the Archdiocese of Hartford July 12-18 to share in an increasingly popular summer camp-themed service and faith project, and share they did.
It was the inaugural visit of Catholic Heart Work Camp, a Florida-based national organization that combines service and faith through charitable work projects conducted for selected agencies and individuals in the communities it visits.
This year marked the first time that the summer camp-themed event, increasingly popular with parishes and youth ministries throughout the country since the first event was held in 1993, visited Hartford. This year’s camp event was hosted by the parishes of St. Dunstan in Glastonbury and St. Peter Claver in West Hartford.
Planning began months ago as archdiocesan offices began community outreach to identify recipient agencies and specific work projects and to arrange housing, transportation and local support in advance of the arrival of student participants from throughout New England and beyond. All was ready as they arrived by bus and carload on July 12.
Northwest Catholic High School was the base camp, with classrooms serving as camp sites for the participants, who split up into about three dozen separate teams during their stay.
“This faith-based community initiative is woven through the fabric of our school and we applaud the effort of these students,” said David Eustis, Northwest Catholic president, in an earlier statement provided to the archdiocese.
As they do at campsites everywhere, the temporary quarters sprouted bedrolls and bulging backpacks, electronic gadgets, snacks and enough tie-dyed gear for a kid to make it through a week away from home. The days started about 6 a.m. with Mass, then breakfast. They concluded with afternoon prayer and reconciliation, followed by an evening meal, entertainment and group activities after a hard day’s work.
And they had their work cut out for them.
Camp Manager Gina Raymond, who heads the youth ministry at St. Dunstan’s, described the week’s work in a recent press release issued by the archdiocese.
“The theme of this year’s work camp is ‘Amplify Your Faith,’ so we are trying to instill in our campers that the best way to practice your faith is to help your neighbors and not to expect anything in return. This is what Pope Francis is urging us to do, and this is what we should try to do.”
Tasks at the participating organizations, including Foodshare, Riverfront Recapture, South Park Inn, Gifts of Love, Catholic Charities and Urban Oaks, as well as private residences, included painting, landscaping, cleaning, serving the elderly and underprivileged, and farm work and maintenance.
Talking with the Transcript about the week’s activities and what the event meant to them, several participants said that they enjoyed not only providing the services to the agencies and individual recipients, but sharing their work and faith experiences with other work-campers.
Among them was a group from St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Saddle River, N.J., who visited Hartford with Msgr. Frank Del Prete. Tim Malley, Liz Meehan and Tommy Federer said they enjoyed their work repainting the high-ceilinged classroom walls of the former SS. Cyril and Methodius School in Hartford, now serving the needs of Catholic Charities; refurbishing a rosary garden at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield; and assisting an elderly resident with home maintenance.
Thanking organizers and participants at the closing ceremony on July 16, Shawnee Baldwin, director of youth and young adult ministries for the Office of Religious Education and Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Hartford, said that the archdiocese had been looking forward to hosting the inaugural camp week for a long time.
She said she hopes that the success of the first camp week will make it possible for future CHWC events to be held within the Archdiocese of Hartford.
CHWC participants closed the week with Mass and farewells on the morning of July 17, their free and fun day before heading home. As they broke camp, the workers left with new friends and many thanks from a grateful community.