Christian Workcamp volunteers build houses and sense of community

The sound of hammers pounding against wood and the whir of an electric drill filled the air on Wisewell Court in Lansdowne Monday.

Catonsville resident Yarb Ballard, Halethorpe resident Jim Napier, a member of Melville Chapel United Methodist Church, and Baltimore resident Duane Watson, who represented Southwest Emergency Services, were making all the noise on July 22 as they worked on repairing a wheelchair ramp up to the front door of Jim and Virginia Mullins' townhouse.

"The ramp is our lifesaver," Virginia Mullins said.

Her husband is on dialysis and has to attend multiple treatment sessions each week. But because he uses a wheelchair, she used to find it a challenge getting him up and down the front steps.

Ballard and the Baltimore County Christian Workcamp were happy to come to the rescue.

"We do work for the handicapped, the less fortunate," Ballard said of the county-wide workcamp, which began Monday and continues all week.

Three years ago, recalled Ballard, who is with Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church, he helped to build the ramp for the couple.

Monday morning, he was back working with his friends to make some small repairs to the structure.

"When we built it initially, it was very green wood," the 80-year-old said. "We're making it a bit more stable."

Mullins said she was grateful for not only the ramp, but the work that the camp participants do throughout the county.

"There is so much need and finances are just so bad," she said. "You need people to go out and help."

This year, the workcamp is celebrating its 30th summer of assisting homeowners entirely free of charge.

"It started up in the north part of Baltimore County," said the nonprofit's co-chairman, James "Chip" Day. "It's spread now throughout all of Baltimore County."

During one week each year, more than 100 volunteers from county churches visit sites all over the county to help with home improvement of all shapes and sizes.

"Some (are) just scraping and painting...some are major construction projects," said Day, a Catonsville resident. "Sometimes (there are) as many as 15 to 20 people working on the same project.

"Money is donated by churches and individuals and companies throughout the year," Day said.

All the volunteers are provided with free breakfast and lunch. Volunteers from all the sites convene each night of the week to eat dinner at a different church.

Day, from Catonsville United Methodist Church, said the work is not only about making physical repairs, but emotional connections as well.

"That's a good feeling when we talk to people and know we've helped just by being there," he said. "You have special times and special moments you remember through the years."

He said the camp is open to anyone and everyone who wants to volunteer their time.

"It's for all ages," Day said. "There's something for everybody to do."

Reisterstown resident Ben Morrison spent Monday at a residence in Catonsville doing yard work with other students from the youth group of Reisterstown Methodist Church.

"I have raked the side of the house," the 11-year-old said. "We brought a big pile of sticks up from the back."

Before the week is over, Ben said they would weed and mulch in the backyard, repaint the front porch and do a number of odd repairs inside the home on Sunset Avenue.

He said he spent last week at baseball camp, but was glad to be spending this week helping others rather than just playing around.

"Well, if you go on vacation or baseball camp, like, you go and you have fun but you're not really helping anybody," Ben said.

"You feel good when you help people because maybe they can't do it themselves so when you help them it's a lot nicer 'cause you feel good," he said.

Sheila Nasir owns the home Ben and his 12 peers are working on this week and expressed gratitude for their help.

"Without Chip and the people from the workcamp, I wouldn't be able to handle all this by myself," Nasir said.

Workcamp members have been working on Nasir's home for about 20 years now. They originally helped build the first story of the home and went on to install water and electric service over the years.

"They got me upstairs," Nasir said. "I lived in the basement before I knew Chip (Day). He really helped me through the bad times and the good times.

"It shows you've got true friends," she said.

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