We call it Catholic HEART Workcamp (CHWC) and it's full of, you know... HEART and warm fuzzies and Jesus talk and serving others. That sorta stuff.
Last year, my youth group attended CHWC in Atlanta. It was already planned when I stepped into my role as youth minister, so I just went along with it and it ended up being a fantastic experience.
Fast forward to late 2013. It was time to start planning our next summer mission trip and I felt we just had to return to CHWC. So I took a look at their handy website, read the list of cities and dates, and immediately fell in love with the idea of going to CHWC in Toledo, OH.
I know, I know, so random, right? But hear me out: I was trying to attract teens to our summer mission trip. We only brought 9 teens with us the previous summer, so I was looking to at least double that number. I mean, I work in a pretty big parish. Surely there are more than 9 teens out there who want to fill a week of their summer with service, no? Well, maybe not. Service can sometimes be "lame" and "uncool" from a teen's perspective. But I figured if I had something else to draw them there, I'd have kids signing up like there was no tomorrow. And then they'd fall in love with CHWC and want to go back every year.
So, that's why I decided on Toledo. Because, do you happen to know what's practically right next door to Toledo, OH?
CEDAR POINT!!! AKA the roller coaster capital of the world. They have roller coasters out the wazoo! How many, you wonder? SEVENTEEN! That's a lotta coaster.
And as God would have it, that's the same number of teens who signed up for our trip this summer. Not exactly double last summer, but pretty darn close.
So off we went! We departed at 12am bright and early on Sunday morning and arrived in Toledo later that day around 2pm. Phew! 14 hours on a bus (including stops for bfast and lunch) was... exactly what you'd think. Long and a little uncomfortable and filled with movies upon movies.
Sidenote -- Did you know our Bishops rate basically every movie in existance? At first I told the teens we could watch G or PG movies (none of this PG-13 voilence or sex or foul language nonsense), but then decided to teach them a little about our Bishop's rating system by requiring that all movies be A-I or A-II as rated by the Bishops. Cool teachable Catholic moment right there.
From here on out, I'm just going to picture dump if you don't mind. It's definitely the best way to recap the week. I'll throw in some stories too.
Oh, please excuse the "meh" photo quality. I brought my nice camera along, but realized as soon as we arrived that I forgot the SD card at home. Oops. Thank goodness phones take decent pics these days.
Let's start with a pic of the whole crew.
Those shirts say "Holy Toledo!" because obviously I can't help myself when it comes to a good pun.
After that long trip on the bus, I say we don't look half bad. Can you spot Steph & John?
My work for the week was at a neighborhood outreach center running their Vacation Bible School. Along with one other adult chaperon and 6 teens (plus lots of adult helpers who work for the outreach center), we worked approx. 6 grueling hours a day playing with adorable kids. It was tough, I tell ya. But actually, I'm completely kidding. Look how cute they are:
That was the day one of them came up to me and said, "Let's play hair salon! I wanna do your hair!" And so we did. And then all the other CHWC girls in my group volunteered their hair for up-dos. We got braids and buns and barrettes. It was just stinkin' adorable.
My primary job at their Egypt themed Vacation Bible School was teaching the songs (with dance moves) to all the littles. They were nervous and shy that first day, barely participating, but by the last day of our week, they were screaming along, dancing their tails off, grinning ear to ear. I don't even care that all the cheesy songs are still stuck in my head. Worth it!
We also had other jobs, like chaperoning the kids on a trip to the art museum, face painting, acting out scenes from the story of Joseph (you know, the guy with that amazing dream coat), picking (and eating) strawberries from the community garden, and playing with worms in a compost bin.
Overall, it was a fantastic week of service. When you arrive at CHWC, they almost immediately split all the youth groups into several different work groups. Most work groups renovate houses, paint, garden, clean stuff. So, I'm pretty sure my group got the best work assignment ever. Kids are so cute.
Our work group even got a chance to see the inside of an abandoned Catholic church. It's right next door to the outreach center we worked for. It seems like they kinda still keep tabs on it, but clearly don't do much upkeep. It was a little eerie and extremely beautiful.
After our long, strenuous days of work ;), CHWC runs evening programs for the campers. It involves lots of silly activities, skits, prayer time, witness talks, live music, and other great stuff.
One night, my husband got called up on stage and the camp staff dressed him as a woman. Here you see him twirling his fake orange hair.
He tells me he picked that specific wig so he'd look like me. Thanks, dear. Now I know what our bio kids would look like. But hopefully not. :P
The most spiritual evening of the week includes a powerful prayer service called Four Corners. Adult leaders hang around the gym with candles to chat with teens about anything heavy on their hearts and then pray over them. Teens can also write positive messages or prayers on a large white banner, hung for all the see the next day. And lots of priests from the nearby churches come in to hear confessions, all of which are needed because that confession line gets long! (Praise God!) Often teens share some deep stuff with the adults and priests and overall there are lots of tissues needed, if you catch my drift. It's really a beautiful thing.
On the last evening, there's always a light show. This year, everyone got to wear these neat light-up gloves and we moved our arms in unison to the instructions on the big screen. It was really cool to see.
And then we had a free day!!
Off we went to Cedar Point. Our group is pretty adorable, don't ya think?
Us chaperones stuck together and headed straight for one of the tallest coasters in the park, Millenium Force. Over 300 feet tall, speeds up to 93 mph. There it is behind us. It was a doozy!
I have always loved roller coasters. In fact, one of my ulterior motives for choosing Toledo was so that I could cross a trip to Cedar Point off my bucket list. (Shhh, don't tell the teens.) But after riding one after another after another, I have to be honest... they kinda hurt! Is that just what happens as you get older? Are my coaster loving days drawing to an end? Is this real life?
We probably rode about 10 roller coasters that day and never waited more than 30 minutes. I was worried our waits would be much longer, as a google search before the trip told me wait time at Cedar Point can be up to 3 or 4 hours for the big coasters. Yikes! Lucky for us, it rained just a teeny bit as we were arriving, so I think that scared some folks away. Plus, apparently school's still in session up there, so that helped too.
The coaster you're about to see is the tallest in the park. The Top Thrill Dragster. 420 feet tall, fires you off at 120 mph (AHH! ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY MPH!!), over in 17 seconds.
We didn't ride it. I was too scared.
But I did eat this delicious turkey leg...
I bought the last one on the grill, ate about 1/2 of it, and made a complete mess of myself.
Our last coaster was the Gate Keeper. And then we posed for a cute pic near its entrance.
After gathering the troops, we headed back to camp headquarters, about 1 hour away, and slept a little bit, then woke mega early to start the long trek back to Memphis. Another 14 hours on the bus, lots of kids movies (Brave and Up and Frozen), fast food meals, and passing out in awkward positions.
We made it back, parents in the church parking lot excited to greet us, and life was good. A successful summer mission trip under my belt and this youth minister was ready for a nap. Nay, several naps.