Thursday, September 06, 2012

Workcamp coordinators wrap up their service, review the summer.

Brethren youth brave the heat of summer 2012 at a workcamp at ECHO in Florida
Photo by Cat Gong
Brethren youth brave the heat of summer 2012 at a workcamp at ECHO in Florida
The Church of the Brethren’s Workcamp Office is simultaneously wrapping up the summer and gearing up for next summer’s events (see announcements for 2013 program below under Upcoming Events).

There were 23 workcamps held this summer: 7 for junior high youth, 13 for senior highs, 1 for young adults, and 2 for intergenerational groups. Attending those camps were approximately 500 people--over 100 advisors and adult participants as well as over 350 youth and young adult participants. At each camp there were also two leaders provided by the Workcamp Office. Out of those leaders, about 33 were volunteers who committed a whole week away from home, family, and work to help out.

Workcamp coordinators for the 2012 season were Cat Gong and Rachel Witkovsky, both placed by Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). The coordinators work out of the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.

Gong grew up in State College, Pa., and attended University Baptist and Brethren Church. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in sociology she decided she wanted to give back. Growing up she had always done workcamps with her youth group and when she heard about BVS placements in the Workcamp Office she applied right away. “It has been an amazing year here in Elgin,” she commented, “and an amazing summer serving with youth and young adults from our denomination!”

Witkovsky graduated from Elizabethtown (Pa.) College in 2010 with a theater performance major and a creative writing minor. Her home congregation is Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa. “I’ve gone on many service trips before,” Rachel said, “but this summer--the places I went, the people I worked with--will always have a special place in my heart.” Her time with BVS is not ending, however. She will continue as National Junior High Conference coordinator, working in the Youth and Young Adult Ministries Office.

The two coordinators worked for a year to prepare for the 2012 workcamps on the theme “Ready to Listen” (1 Samuel 3:2-10). Throughout the summer, they made their way from the East Coast to the West Coast and beyond. They were joined by youth from all over the country.

Amazing things happen at workcamps, and wonderful work gets done by those who are willing to serve. A lot of good stories and memories came out of the summer. Here are just a few:

“Can you come back next week?” was a comment Gong remembered from the ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organizations) workcamp, the most intense work week of her summer. The youth and their advisors worked outside in 95 degree July weather in humid North Fort Myers, Fla., on a farm where they weeded, moved trees, built a bridge, and sweated a lot. A farm worker later said the group did more work in three-and-a-half days than a group of senior highs did in seven days earlier in the summer.

“No one ever serves us like that,” is a response that Witkovsky received from one of the volunteers at Innisfree Village who was commenting on the Brethren workcampers. “We had decided to serve everyone at their tables instead of do buffet style,” she said. “That one small decision helped a lot of people. It made a difference to them to be able to sit with their housemates and just enjoy their dinner. The volunteers do all the serving normally.”

“At Camp Eder we were surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation with little outside noise,” Gong reported from another workcamp at a Church of the Brethren camp in Pennsylvania. “During devotions one night, one of the youth shared a story with the group that he had heard at another camp.” The story was about a Native American chief meeting with a general to discuss terms of peace. They were meeting outside a major city where noises included factories, horses, children running and screaming up and down the street. The chief heard the sound of a cricket, to the general’s disbelief. Then the chief pulled a quarter from his pocket and dropped it on the road. Suddenly heads turned at the clink of change. The chief looked at the general and said, “It’s a matter of what you’re listening for.”

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13) is a scripture Witkovsky found helpful during a workcamp on Skid Row in Los Angeles, Calif. The group was distributing bag lunches to the homeless. “‘Here comes the spirit! Whoa!’ yelled a man as we walked past,” she said. “I couldn’t tell if he was serious, sarcastic, or crazy. But either way, I found myself looking to the front of the group and, there, in front of Gilbert, leading the group, I saw Jesus walking with us. Protecting us. Handing out sandwiches to those who needed food.”

It’s great to think of some 500 people of the Church of the Brethren out there, helping--“giving a hand up, not just a hand out,” as one project leader said this summer. Workcamps are a chance for anyone who has ever felt called to help their neighbor. Those involved in the Workcamp Ministry are carrying out Jesus’ call to live simply, peacefully, together. They are his hands and feet. And it happens every summer. A new season is about to start! Are you in?

-- Rachel Witkovsky and Cat Gong provided this report. They are saying farewell to the Workcamp Office, passing the torch to new coordinators Katie Cummings and Tricia Ziegler who have already begun planning for 2013. Photo albums from the 2012 workcamps will be available soon at

Source: 9/6/2012 Newsline

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