Hello, Internet! Cole here. As I mentioned in my previous article, I was planning on going to a work camp to serve the poor and to understand them better. I’m not planning anymore, though, because I already went. My experience at the camp was the most… OK one that I’ve ever had. I’ve never felt more ambivalent about any other experience in my life. It’s not because of a lack of activity, though; so many things happened at the camp in its one-week span that it would be imprudent not to include as much as I possibly can. In order to explain my time at the camp in detail, as well as to utilize a different format for the sake of novelty, I am going to use a day-by-day format for this article. I’ll start from the Sunday when I first set out for the camp and end with the Friday that I left.
The drive to the camp took about 7 hours. We had to make about 7 stops for bathroom breaks, missing items, and lunch (whenever one passenger car stopped, the other car had to stop as well to keep pace; we couldn’t carry all the passengers in one car), and our group leader played Christian rock and nothing else; he more or less actively avoided any station that wasn’t playing Christian rock nonstop, and when he couldn’t find a station that played it he switched to CDs. The car had a movie player, but the built-in remote’s battery was dead; as such, the group leader had to turn the movies on manually through the group leader’s console, and we couldn’t adjust the brightness or sound.
Eventually – and I mean eventually – we reached our “home base”, Lee High School. (For geographic context, Lee County is in the far reaches of western Virginia.) We were given a brief tour of the facility, and then we brought our personal items to our rooms. It was at about this time that my usual anxieties set in; historically, I have never functioned very well with camp environments, and this camp was no exception. After we had dinner and went to mass – activities that did little to calm my nerves. At about 10:00 PM, we headed to our rooms to prepare for bed. The room had two fans for temperature control, and by lights-out both of them were broken. It was a long, warm night.
At 6:30 we woke up and went to Mass for an hour; we would end up doing this every day. Mass was followed by breakfast, and then by a series of preparatory activities, including team-building and van-proofing. Team building was relatively fun – we got to create a “game” using three random objects at one point.
Once that was all done with, we traveled to our work site for the first time. It was 45 minutes away, and we got lost at one point and went into the wrong neighborhood. Once we finally managed to get to the site, we began to construct a wheelchair ramp for the residents’ elderly grandfather. We only managed to dig the holes for the posts that day, but it was a very good start. A portion of the team also began renovating the residents’ bathroom; however, since I worked more or less exclusively on the ramp, I haven’t much to say about that part of the project. At 5:00 PM, we packed our things and returned to base.
Then, I went into the first public shower that I had ever had. It was awkward and horrible.
After returning to my room and taking time to recover from the showers, I went up to dinner. The base was serving spaghetti and meatballs, I think. I tried to calm my still-frayed nerves by reading my large book of Lovecraftian horror – a rather poor choice of reading material for nerve-calming, but still the best one I had at my disposal. It… didn’t help my feelings of isolation much, so I decided to play a game with some of the other kids at the camp.
Dinner was followed by an evening program in the school’s gym. The camp had a strong Evangelical Catholic bent, so every night had a program to help expand our Christian faiths. The program consisted of a concert-like setting, with a makeshift stage set up at the front and a band to provide music. There was also a speaker who encouraged us to “see God in our lives” wherever we were. On this particular day, she explained that she was aware of our discomfort, but that this camp was “not about ourselves” and that we could still get something amazing out of it, albeit not materially.
Once the program was over, we held a brief meeting with our respective parishes, where we discussed specific questions that had been assigned to us. Then, we returned to our rooms and tried to go to sleep.
We traveled to a small Catholic church in the morning. The church’s proprietors gave a brief speech about how Catholics are a minority in Lee County; in fact, they explained, their church was more or less the only Catholic church in the area. They then provided us with breakfast, and we set off for our work sites.
Using the holes that we dug the previous day, we set multiple support beams into place and held them with cement. Once that was done, we headed back to base.
The showers were still awkward and horrible.
At the beginning of the program, one of the adult chaperones came up to me. She introduced herself and mentioned that had my mother not reassigned me to a group leader I knew, I would have been in her group. The fact that she actually spoke to me after I’d been feeling isolated and anxious for one and a half days caused me to cry tears of… sadness? Joy? I honestly don’t know, but this was not one of my finer moments in any case; in foreign social situations, it’s best to maintain composure and not to show signs of emotional weakness. (In layman’s terms, crying in public makes people look like wimps.)
First, we made a foundation for the platform on the top part of the ramp. We then measured the slope from the edge of the platform to the ground; upon finding that the slope would be too steep with the poles we set into place, we decided to dig a new column of holes, as well as a set of two trenches. In the meantime, we began to place slats on the existing supports, managing to finish the top platform and part of the ramp. After all of this, we ended up spending about half an hour more on the project than we were supposed to spend, and we had to rush to get dinner.
The showers were pretty okay today, except that they were horrible.
The Sacrament of Confession was held on the school’s fourth floor during the evening program that night. As I hadn’t attended Confession since the fourth grade, I decided to participate so that I could confess you don’t need to know. Once I’d confessed you don’t need to know, I went back to the gym and was launched into about an hour of quite tedious verbal prayer. As important as acknowledging the needy is, our vocal cords deserved their own prayers by the end of the program.
After eight hours of slat-placing, trench-building, and handrail-setting, the ramp was eventually completed. The bathroom was incomplete, but the contractor said he’d work on it. It was pretty cool to be able to actually walk on the deck; I’ve walked on decks before, of course, but it’s an entirely different experience watching all the parts of a planned-out whole come together and then walking on their sum. Of course, all of this resulted in another schedule slip for us, and we had to work quickly to get all of our tools in order in time for dinner.
Insert “showers were horrible” sentence here.
Dinner was special today. We were allowed to bring the residents of the sites we were working on to the meal, although our residents respectfully declined the offer. The servers offered some of the foods that had been offered the previous day, such as hamburgers and hot dogs. At the end of the meal, desserts were provided in the form of ice-cream bars and ice-cream sandwiches.
The evening program had a local bluegrass band performance. I’ve forgotten the band’s name, but I think that it had the word “rumblers”. Although I typically don’t like country music in general – exaggerated Southern twangs, in my opinion, sound like low – quality pulled pork tastes – I found myself enjoying the performance and dancing along with the rest of the group.
There isn’t much to be said here. We went to Mass in the morning, ate breakfast, cleaned up the work site, and left.
The ride back home was spent listening to Christian rock and writing in the journal that my mom sent with me. At one point, while everyone else was listening to different music through their headphones, our group leader even let me listen to the soundtrack of the musical of Legally Blonde. (Go ahead, judge me for liking that play. I won’t stop you.) After under seven hours of driving, we got back to St. Michael’s. I then packed my things, got into Mom’s car, and left.
I took a shower when I got home. It was remarkably non-horrible.
Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about the camp. It was hot and uncomfortable at the best of times, but I was able to help someone who needed help, and that was the whole reason I went. I may or may not go again in the future; as it stands, I feel like there are better, more efficient ways to aid the poor, and I plan to seek such opportunities out in the future. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be seeing ya!
Cole is a monthly contributor, he just finished his Freshman year in Henrico County in an IT Specialty Center. He has Asperger’s and shares a variety of topics with us each month. In his free time, he loves to take care of animals.