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How to plant the seeds of compassion

Charlotte Huntley
The author, a regular contributor to The Week, lives in Sugar Creek Township.

(Published Aug. 22, 2007, 3:15 p.m.)


Carol Murphy of Delavan is well known for her volunteer work. But the one volunteer program that lights up her eyes is one that involves Delavan youth and reaches other states.

It all started when she was asked to teach ninth grade confirmation at St. Andrew's in Delavan. She confessed to being a nervous wreck, not that she was worried about being in front of a class, but she had a deep concern. "What could I do to inspire these teens to understand God and help them to keep him in their lives?"

Inspiration came like a bus. In fact, it was a bus. St. Francis De Sales of Lake Geneva and St. Benedict of Fontana wanted to fill a coach bus with youth to work for needy people in Kentucky, sponsored by Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC).

Murphy signed up 12 of St. Andrew's teens and then the real test came. Would she be a chaperone? Murphy said, "This was another time of hesitation for me." She finally agreed, "OK, I will go."

That was a turning point for Murphy. She became an enthusiastic ambassador for the week-long camp and has gone as a chaperone every year since 2001. Carol is married to Michael Murphy. Each of their children-Shawn, 21, Brittany, 19, and Travis, 16, has been a part of CHWC.

This year, she led a group to Minneapolis from June 10-16.

Murphy is passionate about how important the camp is in encouraging youth to serve others. At the end of the week, the people who have been helped come to the camp; many tell their story. "Most had felt hopeless and with the help they received, they are hopeful again." The experience aims to "help teens understand how helping someone else is the best feeling in the world. It's seed-planting. Maybe they want to come home and help."

It develops compassion as well. Two weeks after working in an HIV home, one Delavan teen learned that someone he had bonded with had passed away.

The camps span the entire summer, from June 3 to August 4, but each work camp lasts for one week in 34 U.S. cities, plus two in the Caribbean.

 

Social service agencies and other non-profit agencies in that city determine where help is needed. "The work could be at a Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, private homes of elderly, teen pregnancy facilities or HIV group homes." The work ranges from playing with kids in summer day care, painting, home and yard cleanup, wheelchair ramp building, or, depending on the skill of the chaperones, major reconstruction.

Each camp has a limit of 300 kids and each youth is assigned to a group of six with one adult. "This gets the teens out of their comfort zone to lead, show work ethic and bond with the people we help and their work group," Murphy said.

Faith is a large part of the program. There are faith-based morning and evening programs and one evening features "Four Corners"; in each corner of the room people focus on praying for others, healing, questioning faith and reconciliation.

Murphy stressed, "One thing I definitely want to note is that it is not just for Catholics." Her group has always included teens from the Delavan area.

The camp costs $325 plus traveling expenses for each person. In the past, Murphy led fund-raising for the kids, but each year it became more and more difficult. In 2006, she stopped fund-raising, and the number of attendees dropped from 36 to 15. However, 26 found the money to go this year; she knows that parental involvement is the key in helping their kids earn their way. Since 2001, over 150 Delavan area teens have attended.

The other challenge is getting enough chaperones to come with the group. The chaperones generally drive their own vehicles to the work sites; this year they pulled a trailer, so they needed fewer vehicles.

Her only question is, "Now that we are home, where are we going next year?"

Read more about CHWC on their Web site: www.heartworkcamp.com.

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