For most of the summer, Nick Wiesing, 14, spends his time working on a farm near central New York. His new friend, Patrick Higgins, 18, would spend a typical week working at a senior living center or relaxing in the air conditioning at his house in Pennsylvania.
This summer, though, they both spent a week of their vacation in Anne Arundel County renovating a home in Brooklyn Park by day and sleeping on the floor of a Severn church by night.
They're among more than 300 teens who converged on Anne Arundel last week on a Christian mission to help others through home repairs.
They're patching roofs, building porches, painting homes and repairing drywall in dozens of homes through a multi-denominational effort called Chesapeake Bay Workcamp.
"It feels really gratifying," Wiesing said, showing off one side of Vivian Jordan's Brooklyn Park home, which had been transformed from a dated green-on-green color scheme to a cheery blue with white trim and foundation.
As other teens and a few adult leaders painted, Wiesing and Higgins were part of a crew building a new back porch for Jordan and her husband, Richard.
The young people had no trouble tearing down the old porch. But constructing a new one was going to require the help of a "red shirt," an experienced volunteer who would be called in to guide the young workers.
Vivian Jordan beamed as she watched the kids at work on her home.
She's lived there for seven years, and her husband has lived there for more than 20. She has diabetes and recently was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Her health problems have made it difficult to keep up on home maintenance.
For the young volunteers, the work camp represented a learning experience not only in construction, but in faith.
"I feel like there's a lot more of God's work being done when I'm here," Higgins said. "I feel like I'm part of God's plan."
Mixed in with the physical work, the teens were exploring their faith through devotions and discussions. Though they arrived in groups from their home churches, they were mixed in with others for work assignments, allowing them to share experiences with new friends.
The volunteers raised money to cover the costs of participating in the camp. Donations rolled in from businesses and churches. The event was organized by local churches in collaboration with Group Cares, a Colorado-based organization that organizes work camps.
Kelly Kalb, 14, of Virginia and Rachel Sedgewick, 15, of Michigan worked together to finish painting the foundation of Jordan's home. It was Kalb's first work camp experience and Sedgewick's second trip after spending part of last summer on a Native American reservation in North Dakota.
Kalb recently joined the youth group at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Annandale, Va., and decided to give work camp a try. "It's been really fun," she said.
Vivian Jordan said she became involved in the program by happenstance. While attending a flea market with her son and daughter-in-law, she saw her husband — a former cabdriver — chatting with a woman. He later revealed he had enrolled them to be considered as beneficiaries of the camp. When the organizers called and said they'd been selected, Jordan said she was thrilled.
"I never even knew that anything like this existed," she said. "This place definitely needed a lot of work done."
"I'm so grateful, and they're really sweet," she said of the volunteers. "They pay to come out here and do this for us. How many teenagers would you get to get sponsors and pay their way to paint some old bingo biddy's house?"