HEART shown in Champaign at first youth workcamp
Photo Caption: Melissa Karigan washes a window for Champaign homeowner Marie Jackson.
By: By Jennifer Willems
CHAMPAIGN — When teens converged on Marie Jackson’s house to
wash windows, pull weeds, install kitchen cabinets and build a new wheelchair ramp as part of the first Catholic HEART Workcamp (CHWC) held in the Diocese of Peoria, she had just one thing to say.
“It’s an answer to prayer,” she told The Catholic Post as the campers and
their chaperones filled her house with the sounds of power tools, laughter and hope.
The scene was repeated by 37 teams at 70 worksites in the Champaign area, according to Mickey Nickrent of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mahomet, who managed the camp with her husband, Tony. Held July 20-26 at The High School of Saint Thomas More, it drew about 250 Catholic teens and adults from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
The youth group from Mahomet hosted the camp, but received assistance from the youth group at St. Matthew’s Parish in Champaign and members of St. Patrick of Merna Parish in Bloomington, which helped to clean the school after the campers returned home.
“It was a great experience,” said Mickey Nickrent, who is still getting calls from the people and organizations that benefited from the work the campers did. “My husband just returned the keys to the school and they have put us down on the books for next year.”
That’s good news for people like Bernadette Kovacs of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Memphis, Tenn. In addition to Champaign, she has participated in Catholic HEART Workcamps in Louisville, Ky.; Shawnee, Okla.; and Mishawaka, Ind.
“This is like the highlight of my summer,” she said while she was painting
the game room at the Mahomet Area Youth Club. “You meet great teens
from across the country, grow in the faith and serve others. It’s better than sitting home all summer!”
Being able to share her Catholic faith is particularly important to Kovacs, who said she not only lives in the “Bible belt” but has attended a public
“You’re given the opportunity to be true to yourself,” she explained about
her CHWC experience. “You can be comfortable with others because they’re opening themselves up to the experience, too.”
Being able to mix prayerful reflection with hard work also drew Karen Dionesotes of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lake Zurich to CHWC
for a second summer. “There was no question I was coming back,” she
“I’ve had it pretty good,” she told The Post as she pulled weeds outside
of Marie Jackson’s house in Champaign. “I decided it was time to
start giving back to people who don’t have it as good as I do.”
The “heart” in Catholic HEART Workcamp is the operative word for
“One of our residents told us we were her guardian angels,” she said
with a smile, adding that the experience has changed her life. “I’m more involved in service now,” Dionesotes said. “You don’t have to go far from home. There are service opportunities wherever you live. You can always find your own Catholic HEART Workcamp.”
In the eight years that she’s been involved in CHWC, Elaine Gray said
she has seen many young lives touched by the experience. “You see the teens living their faith and loving it,” said Gray, who brought 32 teens from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Nauvoo, Immaculate Conception Parish in Carthage, and Sacred Heart Mission in Dallas City to Champaign with her husband, Deacon William Gray.
“I look at these kids paying anywhere from $200 to $400 to $500 to get here for an experience of giving that you don’t find anywhere else,” she said with a paintbrush in her hand. “These teens will be in touch long after they go home.”
She predicted that they would become leaders in their parishes, if they
“When it comes to service programs, they’re always ready to lead those because it’s a part of their experience now,” Gray said. “These kids are so nice. They’re so polite, so helpful,” Marie Jackson said as she sat in the dining room of her house. “It’s nice to see the younger generation
do something that IS something.”
Based in Goldenrod, Fla., Catholic HEART Workcamp was founded in 1993 by Steve and Lisa Walker. There were 38 sessions this summer, including one in Mexico and one in Jamaica.
Most of the camps are for students who are entering eighth grade and
older, although four were designed to accommodate students as young as the seventh grade. In addition, there were 10 “next level” camps for high school sophomores and older.