When I was a teenager, I spent two summers participating in WorkCamp. WorkCamp is a volunteer summer program where youth groups PAY to go fix up houses. “Here’s my money! Can I please spend a week sleeping on a classroom floor, showering at the YMCA, and sweating all day in the sun doing construction projects?” It sounds strange, I know. But, it was also a really great experience. Think Habitat for Humanity, Jr.
My first year at WorkCamp we were assigned to the house of a hoarder and shut-in. They told us up-front that we may not even see her during out time there, that we were only to enter the house to use the bathroom, and if we did we were to stay on the path through the boxes and not touch anything. There were signs on all of the doors, “Stay out!” “Get back!” “No solicitors!” It was said when she was first approached for the project she wouldn’t open the door until they were nearly 20 feet back from the house and they had to shout to her. It took several visits like that to get her to agree to have the outside of her house – and only the outside – worked on.
We cleaned windows, repainted siding, fixed shutters, weeded, and planted. She watched us, silently, from her windows – her newly cleaned windows. On day four of seven she came outside for the first time. She brought us a plate of cookies and immediately retreated back inside. We were instructed not to eat the cookies since they couldn’t vouch for the cleanliness of her kitchen or food items, but we all sat in a circle and stared at the plate, appreciating how much this gesture meant.
On day seven, as we were packing up to leave, she came out of her house again. She approached each of us, one-by-one, and said, “Thank you.” – the first and only words we ever heard from her. She took our hands in hers and placed something in it. When she walked back in to her house, we thought for sure we’d never see her again. We all opened our hands to see what she had given us: a photograph of her. She had gone out the day before – not just out of her house, but off of her property – and gotten her photo taken so that she could give it to us. In that way we each see her quite often, exactly as we remember her; Strong.
Read about my second WorkCamp summer here: Home Wreckers – Part II