Youth missioners in their fourth year in Claremont

Samantha Hallock, 13, and Hunter Harris, 14, do some gardening at the First United Methodist Church of Claremont.

Every summer now for four years, youth from the United Methodists Action-Reach Out Mission By Youth (UM Army) spend a week in Claremont pulling weeds, painting, fixing fences, and doing other necessary work for residents who could use some help. 

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The camp is part of a national Christian work program sponsored by Methodist churches. All the participants pay to go to camp, and volunteer their labor. The camp money goes to the repair and upkeep projects they do for elderly, disabled, and/or low-income folks who could use a hand. 

By the time camp wraps up Friday, the youth and their adult supervisors will have finished over 200 projects in Claremont over the four years the camp has happened here. Sadly, it may be the last year for Claremont, since the camps go to different communities all over the country. Usually, they only stay 3 years. 

Anna Przybylowicz, 20, has been spending a week or more of her summers this way for six years. “When I first started I didn't know anybody,” she said. “I just knew the people from my church, my mom and sister.

“I love the community feeling. You make so many great relationships,” said  Przybylowicz. “Some of my best friends are from the camp.” 

Deb Snelling, administrator at the United Methodist Church, said, “I'm not sure the kids even realize how much it brings to the congregation, having them here. These kids are great, they're so enthusiastic. They come ready to work.” 

Snelling emphasized how much the work camp depends on the Claremont community: restaurants who donate food, Stevens high school donating space, the Community Center inviting the campers in to take showers. “Without the community support, we wouldn't be able to accomplish so much; the more they put in, the more money we can put toward projects.”

Under the bright sun, a crew of campers is building a handicapped-access ramp to the front door of an elderly woman's home. Sandy Cassidy, who coordinates the program, spends her day driving from job site to job site to keep everything running smoothly.

Campers and their adult helpers take a pop-up shelter from the back of Cassidy's SUV and erect if over the job site, where the kids have been digging holes for footers in the 93 degree weather. They pack their own lunches every morning, and make one for the recipient of the project, then all sit and eat lunch together. 

“I enjoy getting to meet all these new people,” said Carolyn North, taking a break from the digging. “It feels good knowing it will help them in the future. (The woman who lives here) is 96 and she's fallen three times. I like knowing that will be prevented.” 

Youth can sign up for the camp after seventh grade, and come back through high school. There are also college-age camps, and some campers return to mentor younger campers. Younger campers work at gardening and landscaping, then move up to the more tool-heavy tasks. Although that can be frustrating for younger campers, the older ones assure them it gets better.

“The first year I didn't like it,” said Noah Cassidy, who's now a young adult teaching others building skills. “The second year I liked it.” 

 “We're always ready to help with gardening and landscaping,” said Sandy Cassidy (Noah's mother). “We do a lot of pulling weeds.” 

“All work is important,” said Sandy Cassidy. “Sometimes the real work is just being there. It's not just about the work, it's about the relationships they're building. And at the end the kids really, truly know they have the power to change somebody's life.” 

-- GLYNIS HART

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