Youth group does service work in Kentucky 2013.07.17


What is in the Catholic HEART?

The answer to this question is of course blood and cardiac muscle tissue, but last month my youth group and I discovered that our hearts contained much more than that. Catholic HEART Work Camp (CHWC)  is a service based summer camp that caters to more than 13,000 campers all over the country. I have had the pleasure of participating in these camps for the last five years thanks to the dedication of my youth group leader, Anita VanZile, and the generosity of my parish, Our Lady of Mercy. 

Although the Catholic faith is a central part of the mission behind CHWC, it isn't the only factor involved. Every summer teens and adult leaders alike pay to go to these camps so that they can make a positive impact in and around communities far from their own homes. Serving others is what I believe to be the driving force behind the ever-growing popularity of Catholic HEART Work Camp.

Because I have been on these trips before, I did not believe I would experience anything new on my trip to Louisville, Ky., this summer. I thought that everything at this camp would be the same as every other camp. It was the old way of thinking "If you've seen one, you've seen them all." That assumption could not have been further from the truth.

Over my five years of CHWC, I have participated in a variety of service projects. There was the year that I painted the entire interior of a house, and the year after that where I worked with the American Red Cross disinfecting their CPR dummies. The last two years I have worked in the unconventional work sites that the camp sometimes provides. Most campers are given jobs where they paint for four days or where they have to weed an entire garden—simple projects that make an immediate impact with the families that they are serving.

This year I didn't pick up a paint brush once. I didn't weed any gardens or do any landscaping. In fact, I didn't even have to go outside all week, which was very fortunate because it rained in Louisville for most of the time that we were there.

Instead of pulling up to a house in need of repair, my group and I were confronted with a large warehouse on our first work day at camp. The warehouse in question was home to Supplies Over Seas, a non-profit organization that helps distribute donated medical supplies to developing countries where quality medical care is hard to come by. Their cause is a good one, and their passion for that cause is inspiring.

Founded in 1993 by Dr. Norton Waterman, Supplies Over Seas has done a lot of good in its 20 years of existence. Just this year alone the organization has sent more than ten 40-foot freight containers of medical supplies to impoverished areas around the world.  Countries including Ecuador, Kenya and the Philippines receive help from Supplies Over Seas to grant basic health care to their citizens. Over the four days that I spent volunteering at the warehouse, our group sorted through 47 pallets of donated medical supplies. We cleared out the warehouse floor for the first time in the history of the organization.

My experience working for SOS was unlike anything I've ever done. I now know more about suction catheters and cannulas than I ever wanted to, but I wouldn't change anything about my time there. This year, more than any of the other years that I've gone to CHWC, has changed my view on what community really means and the true power of helping others. I know that it is a common opinion that my generation is the “lazy generation,” and for a while I believed it. My week in Louisville challenged that belief. Seeing more than 300 teens going out and actively helping strangers will do that, I guess.

So while our hearts are still just blood and tissue, our drive to better the world is much more. Service isn't just a Catholic thing, it isn't even just a Christian thing. Serving others is a human thing. If I have learned anything from my experiences this summer it's this, "True power is service" – Pope Francis.