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Posted June 26, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Young volunteers repair homes during Arlington Diocese event

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Arleen Paredes cuts peg board to be used as a template for a floor as Max Roewer lends a hand. The annual Catholic Diocese of Arlington event, WorkCamp, gathered almost 500 teens to help refurbish area homes. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Kaithlyn Wheeler paints a window frame as Shannon Megrue holds a ladder at a home on Rivermont Drive. Dennis Grundman/Daily


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By M.K. Luther - mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- While other high school students were busy kicking off the summer holiday, 16-year-old Jake Helt spent his week working eight-hour days and toiling in the high heat and heavy humidity of Front Royal, painting and replacing gutters for a local resident.

Helt is a volunteer with WorkCamp, an annual Catholic Diocese of Arlington event bringing youth and adult volunteers together from the more than 30 parishes in the diocese to repair and improve 100 homes in the area.

"It is so great to meet the residents and know they are going to be in a better and safer house because of us, and because of me," Helt said.

This year, the close to 500 teenage and 300 adult WorkCamp volunteers used Millbrook High School as a temporary base. The volunteers arrived on Saturday and have been sleeping on air mattresses in the classrooms, meeting in the auditorium for daily Mass at 7 a.m., and then hitting the road to arrive at work sites by 8 a.m.

The mission of WorkCamp is to make homes warmer, drier and safer, said Kevin Bohli, director of youth ministry. The volunteers do substantial improvements such as insulation work and electrical and plumbing repairs.

"We truly want to make these homes a better place to live," Bohli said.

WorkCamp coordinates with area social services agencies to find residents in need of assistance and then dispatches work crews of five teenagers, adult supervisors and licensed contractors to the sites for the week.

The teenage volunteers finance their enrollment in WorkCamp by raising $450 each through parish fundraising, Bohli said. The participating parishes also provide bag lunches and water coolers.

Bohli, a former WorkCamp volunteer contractor, said the event fosters a sense of community outreach and can be used as a starting point for future volunteerism.

"We want to teach kids that service starts at home," Bohli said.

Youth leader Laura Zybrick spent the week working at the Front Royal site with approximately 15 teens.

"They feel like we have done something here," Zybrick said. "It grounds into them that there are a lot of people who are less fortunate."

Mieke Coppes, 19, a teen volunteer from Arlington, is contemplating continuing with WorkCamp as a contractor or youth leader once she attends college.

"It is a great opportunity -- I have made some really great friends and it is a great way to grow closer in your faith and help people in your own community," Coppes said.

Volunteer Shannon Megrue, 16, from McLean, said the volunteers return to WorkCamp not only to help others, but because the event allows them to be immersed in their faith for one week.

"I can take the time here and get closer and be more of the Catholic I would like to be," Megrue said.

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