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Work camp a summer tradition for church volunteers

Hot, humid air hung over the row of homes on Langford Road, the heavy silence punctuated by the rat-tat-tat of battery-powered drills and the occasional buzz of a circular saw.

As the sun beat down on the quiet Edmondson Heights neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, July 19, a group of 16 volunteers added boards to a new ramp that twisted its way down the steep incline from a row house back door.

The project, one of about 40 around the county, was part of the 28th annual Baltimore County Christian Workcamp July 18-23.

For Westview resident Gary Smith, it was a personal mission.

"Five years ago, my mom was disabled by a stroke and left in a wheelchair," said Smith, a member of Catonsville United Methodist Church, located at 6 Melvin Ave.

Without a ramp built by work camp volunteers, Smith said his mother, the late Lillian Smith, would have spent the remaining year of her life in a nursing home.

"Ever since then, I've just wanted to give something back and this is my way of doing it," said Smith, who has volunteered with the organization for four years.

"I know what it did for my mom to be able to come home, (to) be able to get out of the house," he said. "And I've seen what it has meant for some of the people we've built the ramps for."

Since the work camp was formed by two Methodist ministers in 1984, it has sought to help those in need — often through referrals from social services, churches or even requests from residents themselves, said Edmondson Heights resident Yarb Ballard.

A member of Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church, Ballard, 78, said the work camp is one of many ways he strives to give back to the community.

Ballard referenced his personal motto, 'Did I make a difference in someone's life today?"

"We can say yes," said Ballard, who has seen the need increase in the 12 years since he joined the work camp as the economy and residents' health issues have worsened.

Relay resident Kathleen Trevey, who has participated in the work camp for about 10 years, took the day off from her job at a Catonsville dentist office to work alongside her son, Coulton, 15, a rising 10th-grader at Lansdowne High School.

"It was a good learning experience with carpentry," Coulton said. "It feels good to do it.

"You're helping someone and you know they're really going to like it after you're done," he said. "You see a smile on their face and it really brightens your day."

It was the second ramp for the pair, who with Ballard and other members of the group, spent a week the previous summer building a ramp for an elderly Halethorpe resident who has since died.

"The men here are so wonderful," said Trevey about the other volunteers.

Despite being on a busy schedule, the volunteers are patient in teaching kids new skills, she said.

"They're nurturing them to do this when they get older," she said.

Through the years, Trevey said she has done a wide range of tasks, including yard work, spackling, hauling trash to the dump and helping residents get organized.

She remembered the elderly woman who needed to clean out her cluttered house that included about 50 cats.

There was the single mother whose packed basement had flooded, ruining everything.

"It's necessary," Trevey said about the work.

Project leader Dick Penn was also among the representatives from six churches who built the ramp last week for the elderly Langford Road resident who was hospitalized at the time.

The Freeland resident estimated he has built about 75 ramps since joining the work camp about 12 years ago.

"This is important to me," he said.

"I feel like we're doing what we're supposed to be doing," he said. "It's the Lord's work and I'm delighted to be able to be a small part of it."

Members of Saint James United Methodist Church in West Friendship, Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Jessup, Dorsey Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Elkridge and St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville also participated in the ramp project.

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