2008-07-26 / Front Page

Road Trip

Baltimore workers come from across the nation
Photos & Story by Scott Rawdon

BALTIMORE- Sarah Bugajny was a long way from home. She's a high school student who belongs to the Faith Westwood United Methodist Church of Omaha, Nebraska. And, she's one of hundreds of high school students and adult team leaders who converged on Baltimore last week as part of a massive volunteer program to paint and upgrade homes whose owners may otherwise have difficulty affording the services.

"We ride cows to school," said Bugajny, poking fun at her rural Nebraska upbringing. "Not really," she added. Her crew, which included people from Maryland, Tennessee, and several other states, was painting a house near Market Street.

Connie Weisensee is a team leader from Silver Springs, Maryland who led one of the 57 crews working on Baltimore homes. June 30, she and her crewmates had just met. "We all just met each other last night," she said. Members of her six-person crew were from Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperating as well as it could that day as thick clouds rained just often enough to interrupt the work.

The Baltimore Christ United Methodist Church and the Baltimore Area Workcamp Committee brought 400 volunteers to town. According to a statement from the church, elderly, handicapped, and lower-income residents of the Baltimore received free home repairs. The volunteers' work benefited as many as 70 local residents. The work camp provided free home repairs through the Group Workcamps Foundation program sponsored locally by Christ United Methodist and the Baltimore Area Workcamp Committee.

The Group Workcamps Foundation is a non-profit, interdenominational Christian volunteer home-repair organization headquartered in Loveland, Colorado. This summer, 30,000 young people and adults are participating in 64 work camps in communities across the United States and Canada. At each work camp, teenagers and adults volunteer a week of their time to repair homes throughout the community, representing about 12,000 hours of volunteer labor worth at least $80,000 to the community, said Baltimore Christ United Methodist Church Pastor Michael Donnally.

The Baltimore work camp was housed at Liberty-Union High School, with workcampers sleeping on classroom floors, eating in the cafeteria, and enjoying evening programs in the gym. Donnally said this service to the community would be impossible without the cooperation of Liberty- Union High School. Group Workcamps Foundation will reimburse all costs to the high school.

The work camp offered repairs including interior and exterior painting, weatherization, porch and wheelchair ramp construction, and other work.

Soggy weather slowed progress and tested patience as the week wore on, but most workers were in good spirits. "We're trying hard to get done," said team leader Michelle Reed of Columbus' Hillcrest Baptist Church. Her goal was to complete the work promised to the residents. She was pretty confident her team would succeed and was proud the work completed. The owner of the Market Street house they were working on, said Reed, was already receiving compliments from his neighbors.

"This has been awesomevery life-changing," said student worker Nancy DeLeon of Columbus. Earlier in the week, she worked on a trailer in Buckeye Lake before joining the team at the Market Street house. It felt good, said DeLeon to do good things for other people. "It's not all about me. It's nice to put a week aside to do for others," she said. DeLeon was nervous at first about rooming with a huge crowd of strangers for a week at the high school, but she soon met many new friends and really enjoyed the experience.

Donnally said July 9 that rain stopped an entire day of work and 13 projects remained unfinished. A group of local volunteers finished those projects. The students nearly completed most of the projects, said Donnally, and for the most part there wasn't much left to do.

"Overall, the week was a wonderful success," said Donnally. Many of the residents say they miss talking to the students, who were all very cordial. Donnally said he and his staff would decide soon if the church can sponsor another work week in 2010.

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