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Teens offering some help and hope

MERRY CHRISTMAS EARLY — John Miller of Maryland Avenue in Steubenville, second from right, was among homeowners in need who got help this week from more than 300 youth from all over the country who came to Steubenville to tackle 90 projects as part of their Catholic Heart Work Camp experience. With Miller are, from left, Sophia Chiaravalli of Vermont; adult leader Brad Stark of Edgerton, Ohio; Zach Deters of Quincy, Ill; Samantha Zank of Erie, Pa.; and Samuel Kightlinger of Erie, Pa. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — Christmas has come early for a Steubenville man who plays St. Nicholas at the Steubenville Nutcracker Village.

And that’s thanks to the help of teenagers from across the United States who are in the area this week as part of the Catholic Heart Work Camp.

The 315 participants and adult leaders are doing a variety of 90 work projects for those in need, everything from interior and exterior painting and landscaping to decluttering, cleaning and minor home repairs. In town since Monday, they also are interacting with children at churches and local daycare centers in low-income communities and are involved in food distribution, homeless shelters and outreach centers.

Long white bearded John Miller of Maryland Avenue is one of the beneficiaries of this mission outreach — grateful not only for the physical help, but the spiritual lift and interaction, too.

“They’ve got good attitudes, they like to work, and it feels like they’ve been part of our neighborhood for a long time,” Miller said of his youthful helpers who will wrap up their projects today and leave town Friday.

This marks the second year for the program to have a local presence, according to Bobbyjon Bauman, director of the Sycamore Youth Center. He and his wife, Pamela, are directing the camp in partnership with the Ohio Valley Youth Network and Catholic Central High School.

“I heard about it through a friend from Wisconsin who had their youth group take part in it, and I had been looking to bring in a mission project to Steubenville,” Bauman explained.

The first camp in 2019 attracted 230 youth but was not able to be scheduled the past two years because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Finding people in need of help was an effort that involved connecting with social agencies, advertising in church bulletins and using social media.

“We pretty much will help everyone who signed up to receive help, and we try and help those who signed up first and are in greatest need first,” Bauman noted.

Projects vary.

“The students do interior and exterior painting, landscaping, decluttering, cleaning of the inside and outside of homes and minor home repair such as putting in railings and drywall patching,” he said.

Classrooms at Catholic Central are where the youth are sleeping, and the cafeteria is where they’re eating their meals — arrangements that involve no small undertaking.

“It is a very difficult task,” Bauman said of masterminding that. “We have a student kitchen manager who manages a team of individuals who cook and serve the food all week. That is her main job to do, and we had to have two gigantic semis full of food from Sysco come this week since one semi load was not enough, and we had to get a second load mid-week.”

Feedback from the homeowners has been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Bauman.

“They commented on how the kids were very kind to them and were extremely hard-working and were blown away by the fact that they actually paid to come to do work in a different state from where they lived to help people they didn’t know who were in need,” Bauman said.

Catholic Heart Work Camp got its start in 1993 in Orlando, Fla., with l00 campers. Since then, the program has grown to include more than 13,000 campers in 50 cities across the country and several international camps. There are around 35 camps during the summer all over the United States.

“We are one of the larger ones, but they usually have more than 200 kids per camp,” he said, citing the goal of the camp as two-fold — it provides teens with a chance to serve and give back to the community and gives them the opportunity to live out their faith.

A work crew at Miller’s house on Wednesday talked about their involvement during a break for water.

Adult leader Brad Stark explained the group was doing landscaping, pulling out bushes, tilling ground, planting grass seed and painting.

“They give you a list, a work order, and basically you go there and fulfill the work order, but you also sit down and talk with the residents — you try to spread some faith and joy and cheer,” explained Stark, a resident of Edgerton, Ohio. “It’s not all about work. We go back (to Catholic Central) and they have all kinds of activities for the kids, fun stuff, and then it’s praise and worship time and things like that.”

The students wake up at 6:15 a.m., have breakfast, attend Mass and get to their work sites by 9 a.m.

“We work until about 2:30 or 3 p.m., start cleaning up and head back and have lunch, free time,and then they have what they call program, and that’s for the kids. There are some spiritual messages and there’s fun time, too, like a dance party,” Stark continued.

On his third mission outing with Catholic Heart Work Camp, Samuel Kightlinger of Erie, Pa., explained what motivates his involvement.

“I really enjoy seeing the change,” he said. “When we first got here, it looked a little overwhelming, but once you really start to get into it, it becomes a lot easier because you just get into that mindset of just one little thing at a time, and I think just seeing overall changes is great,” Kightlinger said.

It’s a first-time experience for Zach Deters of Quincy, Ill.

“I’m glad that I came,” Deters said. “It’s good to see how much you can get done, and see the look on people’s faces when you complete the jobs.”

Samantha Zank, who’s also from Erie, offered her take on what the away-from-home living conditions are like for the more than 300 teens and adult supervisors.

“If you bring an air mattress, you get to sleep on that, but if not, you’re sleeping on the hard tile floor,” she said of the classrooms-turned-bedrooms.

“Girls get the top floor and boys get the bottom, and then you have about an hour to shower. They wake you up every morning at like 6:15, running through the hallway screaming, so that’s always fun,” she laughed.

This is Zank’s third year as a work camp participant.

Sophia Chiaravalli of Vermont is a newbie to the outreach.

“I’ve really enjoyed the community service — just the conversations that we’ve been able to have with the residents have been really enriching,” said the 16-year-old.

Miller had help from the Catholic Heart Work Camp volunteers three years ago and appreciates the repeat assistance.

“I’ve been trying to find somebody else to help me. I can’t do a lot of this stuff myself,” he said. “I pay a kid once in a while to help me, but it cost me too much money to try to hire somebody to do all this.

“It is a blessing — Christmas in July, only in June,” he chuckled.

Such a program has great value, he said.

“I’m sure there are other communities that also benefit from this besides ours, because they have groups that travel all over the country to do this, which I think is great. It’s great that young people are willing to do this,” Miller said.

“The residents of the homes the students have been working on will come to a celebration event where they will share about what the experience meant for them,” Bauman said.

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