More than 400 youths from across the country traveled to Sussex County last month. Although most kids their age who spend their summer vacations traveling to the area come to enjoy a beach vacation, these particular youths were spending their time making a positive impact on local families.
“This is what we’re called to do — not just Mariner’s. We understand that God moves first in our lives. God pursues us, God loves us, and we have many blessings that God is able to give to us,” said the Rev. Woody Wilson of Mariner’s Bethel United Methodist Church, which hosted the First State Work Camp the youths attended.
“Therefore, as often as we can, as many ways as we can, for as long as we can, we’re supposed to be reaching out to help the many needs of folks — not only here but also abroad. First State Work Camp gives us the opportunity to locally love on the people here, help them with some of their needs and build some awesome relationships.”
Last month, Mariner’s CRASH (Creating Revolution And Saving Hearts) Youth Ministries hosted First State Work Camp, with participants coming from 13 different states (as well as two coming from Costa Rica), in which the youth helped provide free home repairs throughout the county, with the help of Group Cares.
“They have been planning mission trips for over 30 years,” said Christina Wilson, CRASH youth director. “For our part, we just had to take care of finding the sites. We had to raise over $40,000 to be able to buy the materials,” rent John M. Clayton Elementary School, where the youth stayed, “and take care of the meals.”
This was the second work camp the church hosted, after a successful 2012 work camp.
“We had gone on mission trips with our youth group to different places within the country and out of the country,” said Christina Wilson. “We got to the point where we had different ones ask, ‘How come we go away to work on homes to do these types of repairs?’ We really took a look at that, prayed about it, and felt that God said we needed to do something right here in our own area.”
Wilson said the church worked with a government agency out of Georgetown to locate area residents whose homes were in need of repairs.
“We sent application for the work camp to those folks, letting them know what we were going to be doing. It specifically stated it is free home repairs,” added Woody Wilson, noting that residents had to fill out the brief application to be considered.
The church also advertised in a local newspaper, contacted local towns and spoke to homeowners associations.
A total of 48 homes were impacted by the work camp — from roofing replacement to painting, siding repair to window replacement, exterior house washing to painting the exterior of a house.
“One gentleman’s wife died two weeks before camp, and then he received a call that his son had had a stroke and would be moving home from South Carolina,” said the pastor. “So we built a ramp so he would be able to take care of his son. Then there were other jobs that folks needed done — trash removal or general cleanup around their home.”
The skill levels of the youths who participated in work camp varied, and they were ranked from one to five.
“A person with a skill level of a one is kind of, ‘I know how to clean up and I know how to paint.’ Then, a five is a person with building experience or master carpentry experience, and were able to be crew leaders,” said Woody Wilson, adding that, once everyone was ranked, they were divided into crews for all 48 homes.
He said that, while the youth can leave the camp with a useful skill set, in terms of carpentry, the biggest thing they’re doing is building a relationship with the resident they do work for.
“At the beginning of the workday, we would have a devotional program in the school. Then they would leave and be on the worksite by 9 and work. They would pack a lunch at the school and take it with them. Then, at a certain point in time, they would have lunch at the site and the resident would either come out or they would go in,” he explained.
“They would have lunch with the resident — they would take a break right in the middle of the day and they would have devotions. So we would hear some really awesome stories at night, when the youth would come back in. They would call them ‘God sightings,’ about residents that said, ‘Wow, I never thought there was this much love.’… They were just able to build wonderful relationships with the residents.”
“One lady said she felt like she’d won the lottery,” added Christina Wilson, noting that one adult volunteer, who went on a mission trip when he was 16 years old, is a shining example of how the work camp can make an impact on a young person.
“He carries a picture of that mission trip in his wallet, just to help him remember that moment. That’s part of the reason why he’s in construction today, because he experienced that as a teenager. He just has this great gift to teach teens. He has that passion to share that with young people because it was shared with him as a teenager.”
Jean Spanutius, an Ocean View resident, was one of the 48 whose home was a worksite during First State Work Camp. A team of youths painted her deck, shutters and some trim, and repaired the ceiling in the garage, along with doing some yardwork.
“They were great kids — absolutely wonderful kids,” she said. “They were here for five days. It was hot outside, so they would come inside and eat lunch. I sat with them.”
Spanutius, a member of Mariner’s, said she was impressed by the youth.
“You only hear about the bad kids, but these kids were wonderful,” she said.
Once back at the school from their worksites, the youth would eat dinner and participate in an evening program of worship.
“On Friday night, the residents are invited to come out for the evening program, and it’s so neat to see the crews with their resident and just see the bonding that took place,” said Christina Wilson.
Woody Wilson said that, since the work camp ended, they have been contacted by the work camp’s youth, who want to check in on their residents.
“They want to continue — even across the miles — the relationship they were able to build with them because they care about them,” he said. “We commit to the residents ever after work camp is over. We make sure, as the church, that whatever was not completed — which we had six sites that were not completely finished — that they are finished.
“We also stay with them a year to 18 months. We’re contacting them, they’re contacting us. We invite them to come to church if they can. Some of the folks that have had deaths during that period of time, we help them with grief counseling or packets.
“We try to also get them connected with a faith-based community that’s close to them. Obviously, it’s not about, ‘Hey, 20 miles — come to Mariner’s!’ We don’t have the market cornered on love or Jesus or anything. We want to connect them with someone who is close to them, who can continue to love on them, to be with them and to speak into their lives, as well.”
With the work camp, he said, the youth were able to help build healthier communities through their fellowship.
“The work is kind of like the opened door. Almost everybody needs a little something done, but what we’ve found over the years — not just with work camp, but in life — when you help somebody with something … they really want to share their story with you. They want to share their life.
“That’s the rewarding part — being able to connect with the folks, talk to them and hear their story, to love on them and to be loved by them. We had residents from the last time who were in the same neighborhoods, or even on the same street, who saw we were out working and offered to help. They were providing drinks for crews. Some of them were coming over and helping do the work because they were so grateful.”
Christina Wilson said a starfish — the camp’s logo — is a perfect way to sum up the purpose of work camp.
“We use the story about the young boy who was walking on the beach. He found this starfish and threw it back into the ocean. And then a man comes along and realizes there are all these starfish and asks, ‘What are you doing throwing those starfish into the water?’ And the boy says, ‘Making a difference.’
“The man said, ‘There’re too many here. How are you going to make a difference?’ The boy throws another one in and says, ‘I made a difference to that one.’ If you can make a difference to one, you can make a difference, and that’s kind of the theme we carry out.”
He said First State Work Camp will return in 2018, but the church and its youth will continue to do outreach both locally and abroad.
In August, approximately 25 CRASH youth and volunteers will travel to Costa Rica to continue their mission work.
“God continues to provide opportunities to us to be able to meet people’s needs and to be able to help them,” said he said, noting that this will be the third community in Costa Rica that the church will be aiding. “We have youth who are in the process of building a church, a school and a community center in Costa Rica. It’s an ongoing mission from our church here. “
Woody and Christina Wilson said the good done through First State Work Camp is a reflection of Mariner’s and the people in the community.
“It is an absolute honor and a joy to me for Christina and I to, obviously, be married, but to be able to work by her side and to be able to plan and execute the visions God gives, and then invite our church and the community. The support and the love they have. The outreach and the trust that they have… To know that it’s not the two of us that do it. It’s way larger than us,” he said.
“We’re very proud of our youth and our church family. We love our church family,” she added.