Deep in the Heart of Faith
Summer breaks have always been that glorious time of year when students recess from
the rigorous setting of the academic classroom and experience the classroom of life. For several St. John’s students, they chose to spend a week of their summer vacation focused on a spiritual recess while providing labor and service to those who needed it.
Eleven students and four chaperones attended Catholic Heart Workcamp in Chicago, Illinois on July 24th-30th. These St. John’s students, led by Kim Honigford, Director of Youth Ministry, were able to provide a variety of service to individuals and families in need of assistance in Chicago including painting houses for service organizations, working with adults with mental disabilities, as well as working with homeless people at a food pantry.
According to the Catholic Heart Workcamp website, it is centered on the pillars of service, connection, and loving others. The workcamp, founded in 1993, has grown from 100 participants to over 13,000 who served in 2015. It is a week that is Christ-centered, one to help youth connect deeper with their faith, and a way for youth to serve others and have the opportunity to love and assist the least among us.
Colin White, 10th Grade, was a first-year participant with the goal of expanding his horizons. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, meet new people, and serve others.” And he did exactly that. “Our work group was intermixed with an 8th grader, a freshman, two sophomores, a junior, and a senior. I was the only St. John’s student in my group, but our group leader was from St. John’s [Patty Gerberick]. White’s group painted rooms for Neumann Family Services, a residential program that integrates adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities into the Chicago community. They covered multiple stories of the house including upstairs living areas, dining room, and hallways throughout the residency.
Not everyone in the group was new to the Catholic Heart Workcamp. Haley Rode, 11th Grade, attended for her second year in a row. Last year, she participated in the program at Farmington, MI by providing service to a local school there by gardening, pulling weeds in the landscaping, and cleaning out classrooms.
This year, the service Rode did at a Chicago food panty left more of a lasting impression. “It was more of an eye-opening experience because we actually got to see people who were homeless, have a conversation with them and get to know their stories a bit.” Growing up and being told to be cautious of giving money to people on the streets due to potential use for drugs, she was given a different perspective at the pantry. “You can see people on the street in nice clothes and they can still get up and go to work every day, they just don’t have enough money for a house. They are could be living out of the car or maybe they just fell through and don’t have enough money for a place to live.”
Rode was especially impacted by a family down on their luck. A couple had just fallen through and came to the pantry with two kids, a son (age 7) and daughter (age 5). The older brother helps take care of his little sister a lot since his parents work different shifts. “It was sad to see that little kid has to grow up so much faster because of what their family is going.”
Both White and Rode were able to interact with students from other states and make friendships in the process. White said his workcamp group had students from Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin and said, “We had a commonality all being from a similar community, that being very rural.” As a whole, the St. John’s group was able to bond through downtime after service. “We would go to the cafeteria and talk about our day.”
Rode had a bit of a different experience. “This time, I met more people from bigger cities. It was interesting to hear what was going on in Chicago and they would say, ‘oh yeah, we’re used to this’. And I’m sitting here thinking, ‘oh my gosh, there is so much traffic, I don’t know what to do!’”
The youth were definitely influenced by the Christ-centered focus of the week. White’s workcamp chose to attend Mass together every day: “It was optional but our group decided to do it together daily.” A nightly program, Four Corners, helped him strengthen his faith, as well. “I grew closer to God by writing a letter at one of the stations of the Four Corners.”
Last year, Rode said, “I was really questioning my faith. I wasn’t sure what to believe; I wasn’t sure if there really was a God.” Four corners helped her through that. “You can talk to other counselors, staff members, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and open your eyes and heart to God – it helped me a lot in growing in my faith.” This year, she experienced Four Corners from a mentoring perspective. “I had a lot of people come and talk to me about their faith which I didn’t expect. They usually go to the adults, but since they knew I had done this before, I had peers coming up and asking me questions, and that was an interesting experience.” The program also included fun and interactive skits, worship music with a contemporary twist, and learning about the faith and how to build it.
All of the St. John’s students and chaperones had a wonderful experience serving others and deepening their Catholic faith, most if not all saying they would do it again. Rode said, “Catholic Heart Work Camp is an awesome experience. Whether or not you are questioning your faith or are really strong in your faith, all students should go.”
Catholic Heart Workcamp Participants – The students and chaperones who attended Catholic Heart Workcamp in Chicago, IL (pictured from left to right)
Front Row: Adam Schrader, Brandon Slate, and Colin White
2nd Row: Ally Gerberick, Haley Rode, Alexis Deffenbaugh, and Madison Fulk
3rd Row: Jana Hamilton, Kayla Pohlman, Lexie Hays, and Brooklyn Mueller
4th Row: Maggie Wannemacher, Patty Gerberick, Deacon Tony Coci, and Kim Honigford (chaperones)