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Cockeysville church supplies sweat, muscle and compassion for Baltimore County Christian Workcamp

A quarter century after her mother was one of the founding members of the Baltimore County Christian Workcamp, Beth Waltrup — reverentially referred to by her fellow work crew members as "Miss Beth" — passed along her passion for helping others in the community at this summer's edition of the work camp.

Waltrup and more than a dozen friends from Epworth United Methodist Church in Cockeysville spent part of last week in Dundalk doing work that will improve the quality of life for Claire Hepner, who has lived in her Duluth Avenue row house since she was a child.

Founded in 1984, the annual weeklong workcamp works at sites all over Baltimore County to provide complimentary home improvements to community members in need.

Hepner, whose social worker suggested that she try to get a crew from the workcamp to help her, described her house as a disaster area. She credited the crew with helping straighten things out.

"You couldn't find a nicer group of people to do this," Hepner said. "This is definitely going to make it easier for me going forward."

The main improvement that Pastor Bill Jones' crew was tasked with was building a ramp from the sidewalk to the front door for Hepner, who uses a walker to get around.

But when they arrived, the crew asked Hepner if there was anything else they could do to help.

She was more than happy to oblige them.

Hepner told them of a basement door that had warped and would not open. The crew planed it and planned to install a deadbolt to improve security. They also replaced several glass panels on a storm door, fixed a window jam in her bedroom and trimmed a pair of arborvitae by the sidewalk.

All were additions to their original mission, but the crew had no qualms.

"It's like we're coming into a relative's house," Pastor Jones said. "We want to make it as safe and comfortable as possible."

Abigail McGucken, 14, of Cockeysville, was joined by her sister Melissa, 18, and close friend Shreya Vuchula, 15, at the work site in Dundalk. Not only did she get to enjoy their company, but they were also there to encourage her after a mistake.

"They look out for you," Abigail said. "I put a screw in too far earlier and it came out the other side, but they said it was fine and told me not to worry. It makes this a lot easier."

'I like helping people'

Susan Smith, 45, of Catonsville, supervised her daughter Emily, 16, her niece Maddy Wolfe, 13, of Westminster, and Emily's boyfriend, Daniel Holokai, 16, of Catonsville, as they painted a ceiling and organized two upstairs rooms of the Dundalk row house.

By lunchtime Tuesday, the teenagers had set up a small kitchen area upstairs for Hepner and put a first coat of paint on the ceiling and each other.

They had been going full-speed since 6:30 a.m. and had no intentions of stopping.

"I love this," Emily Smith said. "I like helping people, and I like working my butt off because then I sleep well at night."

The painting crew had varied experience in the work camp — it was Smith's third camp, and Maddy's first — but they all became involved because of Waltrup.

Malcolm Jennings, 16, of Towson, began volunteering three years ago at the urging of his aunt, a childhood friend of Waltrup.

Jennings and Jake Bellinger, 13 of Cockeysville, were taking a break on the front awning of the house Tuesday morning after spending Monday working on the ramp.

"I like doing this work," Jennings said. "I learn how to use new tools every year. Yesterday, we dug holes for the posts on the ramp and made sure everything was level."

Sharing skills

Melissa McGucken has learned new skills from Waltrup in each of her three summers at the workcamp. Under Waltrup's watch, she learned to use the buzz saw on last summer's project, and took the skills and experiences with her on a mission trip to New Mexico this year.

Jones took the McGucken family and several other parishioners to the Navajo United Methodist Mission Center in Farmington, N.M. The crew did a variety of jobs on the mission trip, from laying irrigation lines to home improvement, but it was tales of McGucken's leadership on the trip that made Waltrup most proud.

Using the skills she learned in replacing a kitchen floor the previous summer, McGucken fixed a 16- by 14-foot hole in a floor that allowed a family to move back into the trailer.

"It's nice to know that we make a difference," McGucken said. "That's a whole family's life that we changed."

Waltrup said she was blown away when she heard the story.

"Melissa took charge of that floor because of what I told her," Waltrup said. "She was able to rebuild it and lead that team."

That is the main point of the camp, she said, as tears welled up in her eyes.

"All the skills that I have came from adults in this camp," Waltrup said. "It's about helping people in the community, but also passing along skills to others."

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