Roughly 400 teenagers from as far as Chicago converged in North Branford last week on a community service mission as part of an initiative from a nonprofit group based in Colorado.
Since 1977, Group Workcamps®, which is based in Loveland, Colo., has organized youth visits to communities to assist persons with clean-up and repair work on their homes.
With the Tabor Lutheran Church in Branford as co-sponsor, the group in one week worked on 45 homes across a swath of Connecticut from West Haven through Guilford on a construction budget of $32,000. Of this, the church raised $20,000 and it also received donations from groups such as the Lion’s Club.
“I’m a sucker for helping people,” said Peter Harding, a Branford resident and contractor who headed the camp groups. Because part of the mission of the work camps is to introduce young persons to different parts of the country, no shoreline youth were among the working participants, he said.
“This is all about teaching children servant-hood,” Harding said. “That’s really my focus. The young people share with people they’ve never met before a bit of their skills and a bit of their lives. It’s just an awesome experience to help other people.”
Harding had nothing but praise for the participation of the town of North Branford in the camp’s efforts.
“We’ve got great support from North Branford,” Harding said. “I have high respect for them.”
He said local government had met with them to understand the camp's needs, and that the school staff in North Branford had been excellent. The camp was headquartered at —many slept on air mattresses—but also ate in the school’s cafeteria. He termed the efforts of “fabulous.”
According to Harding, each camper paid $400 for room and board, and many brought tools. Harding said the group that drove in from Chicago, for instance, arrived with both tools and ladders. Overall, the group collected 150 ladders for the week, in addition to gallons of paint and other supplies.
The homes where they worked belonged to the low income, the elderly and the disabled.
“We’ve done a couple of small roofs, exterior and interior painting, wheelchair steps and porches,” Harding said toward the end of the week. He noted that the camp’s program had had about 125 applicants. “We had to send a lot of regret letters out.”
The Rev. Bryan Myers of Tabor Lutheran Church said that this is the second time the church has co-sponsored a group, with their first co-sponsorship back in 2009. Since 1992, he said that he has accompanied 250 young people from the Connecticut shoreline area to missions in other sections of the country.
Harding termed the work of the young people “pretty close to professional,” adding that each group of five within the camp worked with an adult who also served as a chaperone.
“Some have no experience whatsoever, but they’re good,” he said.
Both Harding and Myers have led youth from the area on camp missions to other parts of the country, with Myers traveling, he said, with a total of roughly 250 young persons from the shoreline over the past 20 years. As such, each saw this year's camp as an opportunity to sleep not on hardwood floors, but in their beds at their homes.
"For the first time in 19 years, I’m sleeping at home," Myers said.