300 show heart for service in Champaign

Photo Caption: Brant Hartman of Goshen, Ind., helped repaint the Restoration Urban Ministries buildings in Champaign during a Catholic HEART Workcamp held July 19-24.

CHAMPAIGN — “Wonderful.” “God-given.” “I’m so thankful to God.”

With those and similar words, Bruce Warner Sr. expressed his joy and gratitude for the repairs, maintenance and improvements to his Urbana home provided through a Catholic HEART Workcamp that drew 200 teens and adults to Champaign in late July.

“It’s helping us so much,” said Warner, 72, a member of St. Patrick’s Parish, Urbana, who lives with his son, Bruce Jr., and grandson, Matthew.

Father and son both have health problems that impede their ability to do maintenance, so the Warner family was very happy their home was chosen as one of about 100 Catholic HEART work sites in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Running from July 19 to 25, the Champaign Catholic HEART Workcamp drew youth and adults from Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota. The campers were grouped into 48 work teams who went out daily to sites in the region.

The 2009 gathering built on the success of the first-ever Catholic HEART Workcamp in the Diocese of Peoria held one year ago. Both this year’s and last year’s camps were hosted by The High School of Saint Thomas More and managed by Tony and Mickey Nickrent of Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Mahomet.

“We have been taking kids to workcamp since 1999, but we never thought we’d be managing one,” Mickey Nickrent told The Catholic Post last week.

“We have a small group from my church,” she said, “but most of them come from out of state. We had two Greyhound buses from northeast Kansas and about 40 campers from Wichita,” said Nickrent.

Earlier this summer, the Mahomet parish sent a group to a Catholic HEART Workcamp in Nashville, Tenn.

“We had some teens say it changed their lives,” Nickrent recalled. “It’s so inspirational.”

From the home base at the high school, work teams were sent to project sites in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, Mahomet and Homer.

“We’ve got probably five or six wheelchair ramps that we’re building,” said Nickrent. “Some of the groups are working with the Boys and Girls Clubs. Others are working for senior citizens and for those who can’t afford to do the work themselves. They may not be able to buy the building supplies.”

The youth did light carpentry, painting, yard work, and assisted with organizing or cleaning basements.

“One group is helping a family set up a garage sale,” said Nickrent. “We also have a group working at A Woman’s Place, which is a women’s shelter.”

“They’re doing it for the Lord,” said Warner. “They have such a wonderful grace, to be willing to share their love this way. I pray for them every day — for them and all their loved ones.”

“They’re not only good and efficient workers, but they’re so kind and courteous. I’ve worked with many people, but I’ve never met any group of workers like this,” he said.

But the members of the team who worked on the Warners’ home say the blessings flow out not only to the people being helped, but also to the work team members.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s really rewarding,” said Kim Trask of Columbus, Ohio, who was taking part in her second Catholic HEART Workcamp.

“You feel good afterwards,” agreed Liz Haverkamp of Bern, Kan., a three-time workcamp participant.

Another Catholic HEART work site was Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign, an old hotel converted into low-income housing and a food pantry.

Directed by Rev. Ervin Williams, Restoration Urban Ministries recently has been running short on funding during the current economic recession. With buildings that needed repainting and other maintenance, the workcamp volunteers provided timely and much-needed assistance.

At the end of each work day, the campers returned to their home base, where they checked in their tools and reported on their progress. After cleaning up, most campers went to optional daily Mass.

So many had been coming to Mass, according to Nickrent, that they had to move it to the gymnasium on Tuesday instead of having it in the school chapel. The workcamp also started with Sunday Mass and closed with Mass on Friday.

Each day begins with a morning program and prayer service, and concludes with an evening program of skits, prayer and praise.

Wednesday night was a “Four Corners,” which included a talk from a workcamp staff member and group prayer in four corners: prayer with others, prayer for healing, prayer for reconciliation, and prayer for faith.

On Thursday night was a cookout at the high school, where the camp hosted the people who were helped that week. The food for the cookout was provided by Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana, which also helps the Nickrents prepare for the workcamp by identifying possible work sites.

Based in Goldenrod, Fla., near Orlando, Catholic HEART Workcamp was founded by Lisa and Steve Walker in 1993. Part of their inspiration for starting the program came from Lisa’s experience with Teens Encounter Christ, upon which the workcamps’ basic structure of prayer and worship are based, Nickrent said.

Thirty-seven sessions were held throughout the United States this summer, as well as a session in Jamaica and another in Mexico. Most camps are for students entering eighth grade and older, though some accommodate seventh-graders while a few “next level” camps are for high school sophomores and older.

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