Summer ‘Workcamp’ Sees Teens Exchanging Cell Phones and Comforts for Manual Labor

When we think of summer camp, we often imagine activities like “Capture the Flag,” cozy cabins, campfire sing-alongs, and refreshing swims in a lake. However, for a group of nearly 600 teenagers from northern Virginia, their summer camp experience took a unique turn. Instead of the usual comforts, they spent a week residing in a middle school, using temporary shower facilities, and engaging in strenuous manual labor to support disadvantaged individuals in their community.

WorkCamp, an annual week-long program organized by the Diocese of Arlington’s Office of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult Ministries, tasked these high school-aged teens with repairing homes in rural Virginia. The primary objective of this initiative, as Kevin Bohli, the executive director of WorkCamp, explained in an exclusive interview with Fox News Digital, was to make homes “warmer, safer, and drier.”

The campers willingly undertook various projects free of charge, including repairing roofs, constructing steps and decks, and performing other home renovations. According to Bohli, the value of the labor accomplished during WorkCamp exceeds $1.5 million. He and his staff collaborate with local leaders throughout the year to identify service projects.

Beyond the practical assistance provided to the underserved community, Bohli emphasized that he also aims for WorkCamp to foster the campers’ spiritual growth, offering them valuable opportunities for personal development.

“The goal is that by living this experience throughout the week, they are going to grow in their faith life,” he said.

Upon their arrival at the camp, the students were organized into teams comprising approximately five or six members, each group led by adults. Notably, every student hailed from a different parish, as revealed by a representative from the diocese in a statement to Fox News Digital.

The camp spanned from June 17 to June 23, commencing with a day dedicated to team-building on Sunday, June 18, according to the diocese’s information.

Throughout the weekdays, from Monday to Friday, the teenagers remained focused on their tasks, actively engaging in nearly 200 projects spread across various locations, including Frederick, Warren, Clarke, and Shenandoah counties, and even parts of neighboring West Virginia.

“What we do here is rooted in prayer, but we go forth in service,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington said.

At WorkCamp, the complete prohibition of cell phones initially raised concerns among the campers, but as time passed, they came to value and appreciate this policy.

“I love being at this camp where a bunch of teenagers do not have their phones for a week, because I feel like I can personally connect with more people than I would if we all had phones … It’s just a big distraction in our lives,” said camper Emily (no last name given) during an appearance on Burbidge’s “Walk Humbly” podcast.

WorkCamp becomes a family tradition for certain individuals.

The Edmonson family from Purcellville, Virginia, had a unique involvement in WorkCamp. While two of their children participated as campers, their father, Rae, took on the role of a volunteer leader.

Expressing his perspective on the experience, Rae Edmonson shared his thoughts, stating, “It’s truly inspiring to witness the faith exhibited by the youth, particularly considering the current state of society.” These comments were provided to Fox News Digital by the diocese.

“Yes, teens like to joke around, but it’s wonderful to have this experience of solemnity and see it here,” he also said. “They are capable of it — we just have to expose it to them. And it helps them to see, ‘Hey, there are other people like me.’”

According to Blank, the director of youth ministry at St. Rita Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia, her usual job responsibilities do not typically involve working at heights or handling hammers.

It was “incredible to see these teens step up and take responsibility on the work site,” Blank also said.

“They do whatever we ask them to do, even menial tasks,” she continued. “They are working hard, but also leading devotions. It’s just amazing to see.”

The subject matter is particularly close to Burbidge’s heart, given his role as the episcopal moderator for the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. Additionally, the Diocese of Arlington oversees programs catering to students with intellectual or developmental disabilities in several schools, as stated on its website.

“Including students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in our schools and parishes is a high priority for the Diocese of Arlington, and we see that with WorkCamp as well,” he said in comments provided to Fox News Digital.

Burbidge expressed his delight in witnessing these children collaborating with their friends and peers to serve their community, describing it as a “great” experience.

Initially, incorporating inclusivity into WorkCamp posed a challenge. However, Bohli emphasized that the inclusion of these students has now become a “priority” in team assignments. Furthermore, he actively collaborates with the parents of these students to ensure that all dietary and safety requirements are fully addressed.

“When we work with the parishes we tell them the first people we want you to consider are young people with disabilities,” he added.

The focus on inclusivity for children with disabilities played a significant role in Dan Braun’s decision to enroll his son Justin in WorkCamp this year. Hailing from Reston, Virginia, Justin Braun is a recent graduate of the Options Program at St. Paul IV High School, which falls under the administration of the diocese.

The Options Program, as described on the school’s website, offers students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities a personalized, inclusive, and student-centered Catholic education.

“The world isn’t set up for people with special needs, so when you find something like WorkCamp that is so accepting and welcoming to people like Justin, you jump right in,” said Dan Braun in comments provided to Fox News Digital.

In remarks shared with Fox News Digital, Justin expressed his enthusiasm for WorkCamp, highlighting his enjoyment of painting houses and the opportunity to forge new friendships. He also revealed his aspirations to pursue a career in house construction as he grows older.