A little over 30 years ago, our senior high Sunday school teacher walked into the church office with a Group magazine in her hands. She opened it to an ad for Group Workcamps and asked the question that started Youth on Mission: “Can we do something like this?” Rev. Glenn Nowack and Christian Education Associate, Judi Knipmeyer, approached the Church Council, and by that summer, our first campers attended the Navajo Nations Workcamp in Shiprock, NM.

Since that initial trip, youth and adults from Salem and other local congregations have participated in workcamps all over the US and Canada. In 1994, we hosted the Outlaw Ridge camp here in Lafayette County. Community members baked cookies, served refreshments, delivered materials, cleaned up worksites, and were kind and caring to the over 200 youth and adults who worked each day on homes around the county. In 2017 we went to Puerto Rico and to Montana to give and also to celebrate the Stu Starke Endowment for Youth on Mission at Salem.

It’s difficult to measure the impact of those camps – using basic math, however, we can calculate that undoubtedly, we have worked on hundreds of homes. Those who have attended will tell you that we most certainly have applied thousands of gallons of both interior and exterior paint! Our youth and adults have roofed dozens of homes, built numerous ramps and porches, and completed countless other tasks, big and small, to better the lives of many low-income or elderly persons and/or those with disabilities. All those years ago, we didn’t realize what we had set into motion.

Simple mathematics, however, can’t assess the impact those camps had on the participants. For our youth, workcamp has provided a chance to put their developing faith into action, giving substance to the UCC slogan, “To believe is to care…to care is to DO.” Through the support of Salem members and other area congregations, workcampers have had the opportunity to beGod’s hands, to be active witnesses of their faith. In the process, they have learned that the face of poverty is not at all what they expected and that there are countless, rich, fascinating cultures unlike our own within our country’s boundaries. Workcamp is a physical, mental, and spiritual adventure that plants seeds that grow for years—we have witnessed firsthand that workcamp, for many, is genuinely life-changing.

We were not able to travel in the summer of 2020 as a result of COVID-19 but hope to do so again in the future. Thanks to EVERYONE who has supported and attended Youth on Mission camps!