Repairing homes in Baltimore City and staying at a Trinitarian monastery may not sound like the ideal way to spend a week of your summer. “Free labor.” That’s what came to my cynical mind when I first heard about Baltimore Work Camp from the kids in my youth group. I knew nothing about the friends, the experiences and the inner changes one week would bring me. I had no idea how much God would reveal Himself and His plans to me during my time in community service.
For the past two summers, I’ve spent the very last week of June volunteering at the Archdiocese of Baltimore Work Camp. We arrive at the monastery in Pikesville early on Sunday morning, carpool to Mass at St. Gregory the Great Church, then clean up and repair a condemned playground in West Baltimore. Throughout the week, we work in small crews to tackle projects all over the city. This past summer, my crew helped an elderly lady named Ms. Mabel. We scraped asbestos paint off her walls, painted her walls and doors and fixed the railing on the steps to her front door. She was especially grateful for the railing because she had a weak knee and often fell on her way up the steps. She called us a “Godsend.”
I needed Work Camp as much as they needed me. Being there and being able to help people in need brought me real joy I hadn’t experienced in a while. This past summer, Work Camp coincided with my grandma’s death. I remembered that exactly a year before, Mommom had actually attended and spoken at our Sunday Mass at St. Gregory. It was her childhood parish, the church where she had received her First Communion when she little. At the time she spoke, her ALS was just beginning to affect her speech. I visited her the day before I went to Work Camp this year and told her that I would be going to St. Gregory and wished she could be there with me. I cried when she told me that she would be there, even though I wouldn’t be able to see her. My sister Lauren and I received the news of her death halfway through the week, and I was devastated that I couldn’t have been with my Mommom when it happened. I wanted to be helpful and supportive of her in her last days, but the incredible friends I had at Work Camp reassured me. They looked out for that week and were always available if I needed to talk.
Going through such a difficult time made it that much more important to me that I used that week to help others. I understood that I was not the only person who needed compassion and love. I needed to share it with everyone I helped, like Ms. Mabel and the children at the playground. I love the opportunities Work Camp has given me to spread love and share Christ with people who might not know Him. My favorite Bible verse, Psalm 130:6, reminds me how much the human soul needs God: “My soul waits for the Lord like watchmen for morning.”
“Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.”
– St. Francis of Assisi