Volunteers Aid Disabled Adults Through Work Camp
Department for Persons With Disabilities benefitted from teen helpers.
When people think of summer vacations, trips to the Jersey Shore, European excursions and cruises might come to mind. But one group of teens spent their summer vacation cleaning homes, weeding and spending time with adults with developmental disabilities, all by choice, just to make a difference.
For the past six years, the Department for Persons with Disabilities (DPD) has had the opportunity to receive much needed help from teenage volunteers who have assisted with yard work, cleaning and maintenance in their group homes.
The volunteers came from Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC). CHWC’s mission is to “serve the neglected, brokenhearted and marginalized in any way needed.” They strive to “revitalize communities and beautify homes for the elderly, disabled and those who cannot afford needed repairs.”
“The hours the Work Camp volunteers spend at DPD are so important to us," said DPD Executive Director Scott Milliken. “We have a tight budget and a thin maintenance staff. The volunteers' contributions allow us to beautify our homes and further improve the lives of the people who live in them," he added.
The six teens and their group leader spent time at four of the DPD’s 11 residential facilities. The DPD provides care for 74 adults throughout these 11 programs, operates a vocational day program in Lake Hopatcong and provides support for people with developmental disabilities and their families living in the community.
The teens this year and their leader came from New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York. They lived for the week at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington and drove to their destinations each day.
Their first day was spent at Murray House in Clifton where they stained the large deck in the back of the home and worked on the driveway and garden beds.
“The work camp kids worked hard completing the heavy work of replacing gravel, weeding and putting down mulch and adding soil and grass seed to the back yard. They also did some window washing—in and out! We especially enjoyed meeting with them later in the day and finding out what State they were from, where they went to school, and what grade they were in. They showed a lot of interest in meeting us, learning about Group Home Life, and taking a tour of our home," said Pam Van Eck, the Director of Murray House.
The next day they went to Columbus House in Oak Ridge where they thoroughly cleaned the six bedrooms as well as other rooms in the home.
“The house looks squeaky clean," said Jimmy a long-time resident of Columbus House.
Their third day was spent at Finnegan House, also in Oak Ridge, where they cleaned each resident’s bedroom as well as the other rooms around the house.
For their last day, they cleaned inside and outside at Alexander House in Oak Ridge in the morning. Later in the day, the volunteers were honored guests at a barbeque and pool party at DPD’s Wiegand Farm. Many of the residents from Murray House, Columbus House, Finnegan House and Alexander House joined the teens for barbeque lunch, a chance to talk and laugh together, a slideshow of the work done by the CHWC during the week and a chance to swim in DPD’s pool.
“As always, the Workcamp visit was a wonderful experience for the entire DPD family,” said Sr. Joan Kathleen Gercke, the Coordinator of Pastoral Care at DPD. “The volunteers truly made a difference in the lives of the residents of DPD. We hope the volunteers had a good time and were able to learn and grow from this experience,” Sr. Joan added.
“Our (Alexander House) family has been consumed with resident medical issues throughout the last several weeks. The Workcamp volunteers helped us complete tasks that have been hard for us to get around to lately and they did all of that and more with smiles on their faces. They seemed genuinely happy to be here with us and took pride in the work they did,” said Clara Beck, director of the Alexander House.
Already looking forward to having volunteers from CHWC help out again next year, Sister Joan said, "This is such a wonderful opportunity to give service. I am amazed at their generosity, kind hearts and work ethic. I couldn't say enough about these young people. They are such a blessing to us in our world today."
To donate to, visit or learn more about DPD contact Chris Brancato at 973-406-1104 or at Chrisb@dpd.org or visit their website at www.dpd.org. To learn more about Catholic Heart Workcamp go to www.heartworkcamp.com.