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Towson church to dispatch army of volunteers for Balto. Co. Christian Workcamp

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Melissa Regan has painted walls, weeded gardens and built handicapped-accessible ramps. She has removed seaweed that washed up on the beachfront lot of a house in Middle River. She has laid down carpeting in a house in Essex, a task she learned on the job.

"I like the hands-on opportunity to help people in the community," said Regan, a married Towson resident who, for the past five years, has volunteered for the Baltimore County Christian Workcamp.

Regan belongs to Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church, 1912 Old Court Road, Towson, the host church of the work camp since 1992. Begun in 1984 by two United Methodist ministers, the work camp is a nonprofit organization run by lay people and open to all who want to volunteer during its weeklong summer session.

The session is held the third full week of July, this year from July 20 to 25. "It always turns out to be the hottest week of the month," said Frank Thomas, co-chairman with Chip Day of the work camp, a unique organization that is not affiliated with any national group.

Thomas, a Cockeysville resident, a married father who retired from the U.S. Postal Service, starts the process well before summer. He sends out notices to area churches and former volunteers, solicits donations and confers with county agencies about potential jobs.

The work camp doesn't have specific requirements for its services. Thomas leaves that to the county aging, health and social services agencies, as well as recommendations from churches, to determine need. But he does personally visit every recommended work site to see what is required and if the work camp volunteers can accomplish it.

"We are not Habitat for Humanity. They build new houses or renovate old houses. We make repairs, do work on the interior and exterior, that make residents safer and allow them to stay in their homes longer," he said.

This summer, Thomas has a list of 53 work sites, some with more than one job. The task may be as simple as installing grab-bars in a bathroom or fixing a leaky faucet to something as involved as building a wheelchair ramp. There is no cost to the recipient of the work.

"She was so grateful, so appreciative," Regan said of the woman whose home she carpeted. "I like doing something that, when I'm finished, I know it will last."

The work camp typically attracts 200 to 300 volunteers per summer session. They can choose however many days during the week to work and what jobs they want to do. Thomas figures they'll get to 90 percent of the work sites on his list, even if only to complete one job at a multiple-task site.

"We do what we can, but we don't leave jobs undone," said Thomas, who estimates the work camp spends from $18,000 to $25,000 annually on supplies like wood, paint and, even, appliances. "We have volunteers who are retired, and go out and finish a job."

Steve Lippy serves as secretary of Baltimore County Christian Workcamp and, as a member of Hunt's church, the work camp's coordinator. The Lutherville resident and retired engineer said volunteers range from church teams and youth groups to families and individuals.

As the work camp's host church, Hunt's serves breakfast to volunteers every morning of the week. Other churches offer dinner. Volunteers are asked to donate $6 per day to defray the cost. "We're sort of a staging area," he said of Hunt's church, located geographically in the middle of the county.

Lippy's specialty is building handicapped-accessible ramps. Over the years, he has trained an eight-person team of Hunt's church members with that expertise.

"Usually, you have more than one option [for a ramp] so you have to figure out where it's best to build," he said.

He also has to determine how much outdoor lumber he needs, which he buys at Lowe's or Home Depot and transports to the work site. He may have to dig post holes to support the ramp. Lippy figures a 20- to 25-foot ramp runs $400; 45- to 50-foot, $1,000. "It's all site specific," he said of the cost.

Beth Waltrup has been volunteering on and off with the work camp since childhood although most consistently over the past 10 years. Her mother, Audrey Waltrup, was one of its founding members.

Beth Waltrup, a member of Epworth United Methodist Church in Cockeysville, has done everything from cleaning houses to putting up drywall. But a few jobs stand out in the Towson resident and Baltimore County police officer's mind.

In a house on Belair Road, Waltrup removed a rotting kitchen floor and installed a new plywood subfloor.

"I wasn't sure I could do it, but I teamed with a partner who had the skills," she said of a job that required a volunteer to clean out the kitchen beforehand so the floor was accessible and, after the subfloor went in, another volunteer to install linoleum over it.

Last year, Waltrup helped to build a handicapped-accessible ramp at a house in the Fullerton area. Residents of the house were a middle-aged man with diabetes who was confined to a wheelchair; his daughter, who had suffered a stroke and was likewise confined to a wheelchair; and the man's 100-year-old mother who served as the caretaker for her son and granddaughter.

"She was thrilled," Waltrup said of the 100-year-old woman. "Now they could get in and out of the house."

As for Waltrup, she couldn't have been happier. "I know what it's like from both sides," she said, referring to her mother, who was wheelchair-bound in her later years.

"It touched my heart to be able to make the situation better for these people."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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    From left, volunteers Steve Lippy, George Garrett, Linda Keatts, Glenn Keatts and the Rev. Gary Sheffield-James help build a wheelchair ramp at a home in Essex during last summer's Baltimore County Christian Workcamp.

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    Steve Lippy, left, of Lutherville, secretary of Baltimore County Christian Workcamp, and Frank Thomas, of Cockeysville, co-chair of the organization, stand with some of their equipment and materials in a garage outside Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church in Towson Thursday, July 10, 2014....

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