After a stroke in March left him unable to work, Claude Morris of Ruther Glen was grateful for the crew of teenagers who showed up at his house first thing Monday morning, armed with hammers, crowbars, paintbrushes and a willingness to work.
“I feel blessed to get any kind of help,” the Caroline County man said. “It’s good to have somebody you can trust.”
The team of five teens, one adult and one handyman are spending this week at the Morris property as part of FredCamp. The faith-based ministry has been “working to change hearts and homes since 1999,” according to its website, and teams of volunteers have built ramps, power-washed exteriors and repaired windows and screens for local families who couldn’t afford to pay for the work.
But, as evidenced by a dark pink shirt worn by Director Mindy Liebau that read “2019FredCamp, The Final Edition,” the project is coming to an end.
Every aspect of the program has declined in recent years: the number of projects, teen volunteers and adults willing to serve on the board. The biggest reason for the drop in referrals is not because Fredericksburg-area people no longer need the assistance, but because a bigger group has provided it.
Last week, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington finished its annual Work Camp, which brought 850 teens and half as many adults to King George High School, where the groups traveled to seven different counties to complete more than 200 major renovation projects.
That’s more projects than FredCamp completed in its existence.
FredCamp never had more than 50 teens at once, and its roster has ebbed and flowed over the years, Liebau said. So has the number of adults willing to serve on the board. She’s continued as director, even though she has moved to Virginia Beach. Several other board members, including the one who checked out all the homes referred to the program and made a list of needed repairs, have relocated as well, and no one has been willing to take their place, she said.
“It’s just time,” Liebau said.
Jan Saylor started the camp 21 years ago to give teenagers a chance to do mission work in their own backyards. Teens not only give up a week of their treasured summer vacation, but also pay $275 for the chance to work, and sweat, in July. Adult volunteers pay $250.
Joseph Henson, a 14-year-old rising ninth-grader at Fauquier High School, couldn’t wait to join the camp. He’d heard good reports about from his brother for two years, and given that the 2019 is FredCamp’s final edition, “I knew I had to come this year,” he said.
Wearing a shirt that read, “You should be sailing,” Henson worked on Tuesday alongside two young men and two young women who removed rotten planks from the deck on Morris’ house. The group tossed the lumber in a pile, with rusty nails sticking up all over the place, before crew members carried the boards to a trailer.
Later, the teens planned to power wash the house, paint the foundation and hammer new deck boards in place under the direction of handyman John Garman, a former area resident who came from Delaware for the camp.
Like Henson, Josh Alger had heard good things about the group and wanted to see for himself. The sophomore at Spotsylvania High School learned how grateful he should be for what he has, after seeing the situations of others.
“It’s a good experience, but it’s also an eye-opener,” he said.
Katie Dawson, 15, and a home-schooled rising junior, also enjoyed meeting other campers and spending a week with them, helping someone else.
“Just getting to know the homeowner is really cool,” she said. “It’s a good sense of community.”
Morris appreciated the work that went into coordinating the effort. He was always told that those who fail to plan are planning to fail.
“They seem to be committed, and thanks to Ms. Liebau for organizing it,” he said.
Morris, 58, represents the fourth generation to live on the property, off U.S. 301 near Frog Level. Earlier this year, he saw flashing lights spinning in his head like a Ferris wheel and was losing his balance. A trip to the hospital confirmed that the Caroline man, who made patio doors for a living, was having a stroke. He was diagnosed with high blood pressure and cholesterol and diabetes.
His vital signs and sugar levels were so off the charts, medical officials told him he was lucky to be alive.
While talking with Liebau, he expressed his belief in—and gratefulness to—the Lord and prayed he’d soon recover his physical strength. She encouraged him to share his story with the work crew, which has daily devotionals after lunch.
The teens also have time for some fun. Each evening, there’s an outing or activity, such as a talent show on Thursday and a visit to the water park after a half-day of work on Wednesday. FredCamp has used Fredericksburg Christian School in Spotsylvania County as its base.
Camping out in a school also made the experience unique, said Henson.
“I’ve never been to a summer camp where I slept on a classroom floor,” he said.