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The Unexpected Joys of Volunteering

Six of my children recently returned from a week of volunteering for Catholic Heart Work Camp in Memphis, TN. It would be tempting to think that you can't do much in a week, but when you have 300 young adults descend on an inner city area, divide into groups, and tackle 40 different projects, it's clear that Catholic Heart Work Camp makes a big impact wherever they go.

What's equally interesting to me is the impact the experience has on the volunteers. My kids came home with a brighter light in their eyes, a desire to volunteer more, a feeling of accomplishment, and a whole lot of new friends from churches all over the country. It's a great example of taking a perfectly ordinary experience, full of very unglamorous hard labor out in the hot sun in a poverty-stricken area, and turning it into an extraordinary experience for everyone involved.

From the Catholic Heart Work Camp website, here's a description of how the week goes:

You will begin the day with breakfast at 6:45 a.m. Work teams usually leave for their worksites by 8:15 a.m. and return to the school by 3:30 p.m. Each day you will spend time working at your assigned site. You’ll be involved in one or more of the following work projects:

  • painting

  • yard work

  • indoor/outdoor clean-up

  • home maintenance and repair on existing homes

  • neighborhood revitalization

  • helping with children at daycare centers/boys and girls clubs

  • helping at centers that distribute food to the needy

  • restoring hope to those who have none

  • You will also have time for lunch, sharing and reflection during devotions on what it means to be a servant.

After returning from your worksite, you will have an opportunity to get cleaned up and enjoy some free time. You might play some pickup games (basketball, volleyball, football, etc.), write Care Cards, take a nap or talk with your new and old friends.

Dinner will be from 5:15 – 6:15 p.m., with some free time to follow. The evening programs will be filled with activities, music, skits, videos, slides of the work day, testimonies from teens, motivational speakers and prayer. You will not be bored by any means! Each night will be different and special. There will be a opening and closing Mass with Daily Masses being offered throughout the week.

These evening programs will inspire you to continue serving the next day and renew your commitment to God. Each camp has a free day scheduled for groups to goof off and have fun seeing the sights of the host city. You and your group can choose to go to any of the area attractions. This well-deserved break will be an opportunity for fun and community building with your own youth group. The closing activities on the morning of the free day will wrap up a wonderful week at the Catholic HEART Workcamp.

Here are some pics of what they did:

Lisa scraping paint

Christina working with kids

Amy demonstrating her sawing technique

Lauren and Dani mixing concrete

Lauren building a wheelchair ramp

During the same week that some of my kids were in Memphis, my 25 year old, Katherine, spent the week working with inner city kids in Milwaukee, WI, at Summit, which is an ongoing Catholic-based educational charity.

To get an idea of what Summit does, this is from their website:

Summit was established in 1990 to provide a One-On-One tutoring and mentoring program for Milwaukee’s inner city children. Through tutoring, recreation, personal friendship, and a virtue based character program, Summit fosters relationships between dedicated mentors, parents, and their children in order to encourage intellectual, cultural, and moral growth. We are inspired by the social teachings of the Catholic Church which places primary importance on the dignity of each human being.

Katherine went to Catholic Heart Work Camp last summer with all her sisters and loved it, but she decided that this year she wanted to try a something different. She and her sisters performed at Summit's fundraising gala last summer, so Katherine decided to return there and offer her services for a week. Much different than her usual life in the music industry with her days spent writing songs, recording, performing, and filming music videos, for this week of volunteering she worked from 9am-5pm writing a study guide for a book the teens were getting ready to dive into, teaching music lessons, and pitching in wherever else they needed help.

Katherine (upper left) with her music class

She, too, came back with a brighter than usual light in her eyes and a heart to serve more, so she followed up that week with a week of helping coordinate the volunteers at one of the local Vacation Bible School programs. Her three youngest brothers also volunteered and worked under her supervision as crew leaders for pre-school, 1st grade, and 5th grade. Not only did they help the program run smoothly for their particular teams, but they came away with a new confidence in their leadership abilities, and they are already looking forward to volunteering there again next year.

Nick, Christian, and Joey volunteering as crew leaders at Vacation Bible School

I'm reading a fascinating book right now called A Selfish Plan to Change the World, in which author Justin Dillard makes the case that, "the secret to a life of deep and lasting significance lies in the discovery that our need for meaning is inextricably linked to the needs of the world." His personal mission is to work to eradicate human slavery from the face of the earth. Dillard believes that we all have a calling from birth to do something bigger than ourselves; we have only to find what our own unique gifts are that the world needs, and then unleash them. If we all did this, even on a small scale, can you imagine how wonderful the world could be?

Numerous studies have shown a connection between volunteering and better health both mentally and physically, so don't hesitate to get out there and volunteer! Whether it's at a food bank, a soup kitchen, rebuilding the inner cities, working with disadvantaged youth, ridding the world of human slavery, or helping out at church, you'll be keeping your own outlook sunny while you fulfill your unique personal mission and improve the lot of others. A true win-win situation!

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