Juliana Supplee, 17, of Landsdale, Pa., has been camping in New Hampshire for the past week, but she hasn't been hiking, swimming or canoeing along any pristine lakes or streams. Instead, she has been pounding nails with a construction crew that's building a new deck for a family in Nashua.
Supplee is one of about 130 teens and adults from different parts of the United States and Canada who have made their way to New Hampshire for Workcamp New England, a summer camp that provides home repairs and improvements for families in need.
Litchfield residents Ken and Marcia Therrien volunteer their time as directors for Workcamp, an independent nonprofit organization that began as a project at the Manchester Church of Christ back in the 1980s. Although it is still faith-based, Workcamp welcomes all campers willing to put in a week of demanding labor to make a difference for New Hampshire families.
Workcamp crews of middle school, high school and college students spent the first two weeks of July camped out at Berlin High School, working on projects for families in the northern tip of the state. Adult volunteers teach campers the different techniques and skills needed to complete each job.For the past week, campers have been living in classrooms at Pennichuck Middle School.
Each morning, they headed out at 8 a.m. to build decks, repair roofs, paint walls, replace windows and whatever else needs to be done for homeowners in Nashua, Merrimack, Londonderry and other nearby communities.
"All the work is based on need — financial, physical and emotional need," said Marcia Therrien, who added that families are typically referred by different community groups and social services agencies. The goal is to find jobs that allow people to be warmer, safer, drier and more comfortable in their homes.
Families who have had homes repaired by Workcamp crews are more than happy for the help.
"They have done a heck of a job," said Nashua resident Karen Terilli, who was getting the new deck that Supplee was helping to build. Terilli had quadruplets 16 years ago, and two of her children are in wheelchairs.
"The deck will let them spend a lot more time outdoors," she said. "They'll be able to have their meals outside." And the gratitude goes both ways.
"We are as thankful to the residents as they are to us because they allow us to place kids in their homes to learn skills," said Therrien.
Although campers enjoy learning about different types of tools and repairs, the real payback is in the relationships they create with different people.
"It's really all about the residents," said Supplee, who had the chance to get to know Terilli and her family while working at their home.
"(Karen) shared her struggles and her triumphs with us," said Supplee.Therrien said tuition for Workcamp, which runs about $300 per person, covers the cost of food, transportation and supplies for the projects. A few staff members receive a very small stipend and the rest of the camp runs on volunteer power.
"What really touches the kids is going into homes with no toilets or electricity and seeing how different families live," said Therrien. "Most of these kids come from privileged homes, and they are really driven to give something back."
Rhode Island resident Devan Dube, who was back at Workcamp for a second summer, said he appreciates the opportunities he's found in New Hampshire.
"It's just so much fun being here with friends," he said. "And we get so much joy working for people."Therrien said the work at Workcamp can be hard, hot and dirty, but campers and volunteers always get the job done.
"What motivates us is our faith," she said. "We've all been blessed with a lot of stuff, but stuff isn't enough. We're not here to be all churchy on everybody, we just love giving back."