WALLINGFORD — Next summer First Congregational Church will host Wallingford Workcamp 2018, a five-day retreat for more than 400 youth and adult volunteers who will help homeowners with repairs.
The actual event won’t take place until July 8, 2018, but the church has already started organizing, fundraising and collecting applications from homeowners.
The church has participated in 10 previous workcamps, but has never hosted one. The idea was first pursued by Connor Filkins, who was part of the church youth group for about six years and has worked for Group Mission Trips, the umbrella organization that organizes the workcamps.
Filkins is currently a student at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, where he’s studying for a degree in divinity. He’s still helping organize the event from afar, but much of the organizing has been coordinated by parishioner Lorraine Westervelt and other church members.
“I thought it would be a good way to bring not only our church together, but our community together,” Filkins said. “We live in a world that could use a bit more light and happiness.”
All of the repairs done by volunteers are free of charge to the homeowners. Repairs might include building wheelchair ramps, interior and exterior painting, porch and step repair and roofing.
Applications are open until Jan. 31 for people that own their homes and live within a 30-minute drive from Mark T. Sheehan High School, although they don’t have to be in Wallingford’s boundaries. The group is hoping to help homeowners with disabilities, low income and senior citizens.
Wallingford Workcamp has about 13 applicants so far, but are hoping to receive about 60.
“It’s getting exciting because we’re actually starting to talk to the residents,” Westervelt said. After a homeowner applies, organizers conduct a brief phone interview and then visit the house to see firsthand what work needs to be done.
Homeowners can apply online at www.sites.google.com/site/Wallingfordworkcamp/apply-for-home-repair.com, or by filling out a paper application available at the Wallingford library, senior center and town hall. Westervelt said they’ve been reaching out to the housing authority, home health care agencies and community organizations to let people know of the opportunity.
Volunteers from youth groups and parishes across the country will be housed in Sheehan High School for the week. Since so many people will be staying in the school, it will be considered a practice run for using the school as an emergency shelter, in collaboration with the health department.
The church is looking for local volunteers to help with hospitality. People “who can bring cookies one day or maybe a pasta bowl,” workcamp organizer Karen Blakeslee said. They are also looking for volunteer contractors to provide advice and help complete any projects that aren’t able to be finished in the five-day period.
To be able to help about 60 homeowners, the church is working to raise a minimum of $25,000 for materials. They are asking for donations and sponsors from the community. One hundred percent of the donations will go toward materials, according to Filkins. To donate, visit their GoFundMe, “Wallingford Workweek Materials Fund.”
Blakeslee said the workcamp is driven by a desire to give back to the community. When she participated in a past workcamp in Michigan, one disabled homeowner had not left his house in two years because he didn’t have a wheelchair ramp. His first time out of the house was to celebrate with the volunteers who built him a ramp.
“When you see those kinds of things, that’s why we do it,” Blakeslee said.