Intermittent rain and thick humidity did little to dampen the spirits of the six high school students as they fitted a side panel onto the freshly painted house in Kennebunk.

The teenagers teased each other while trying to steady a panel for a student wielding a hammer and nails.

The students were participating Wednesday in workcampNE, a program that sends teenagers to communities around the Northeast to repair homes of elderly, disabled and lower-income residents.

“It’s wicked fun,” said Hannah Foster, 15, of Manchester, N.H. “I love talking with the residents and getting stuff done. It feels great.”

Three years ago, Marcia and Ken Therrien of Litchfield, N.H., established workcampNE as a nonprofit organization. The program started at a church in Manchester in 1989 and operated as an alliance of church groups until the organization was formed.

“We started as a church group that wanted to get kids outside the classroom and church to show the community that kids can be responsible and contribute,” said Marcia Therrien.

This month, 120 teenagers will attend work camp for a pair of one-week sessions. The students, coming from as far as Illinois and Canada, will be broken into 14 groups and sent to various sites around southern Maine. The camp is using Kennebunk Middle School as its base of operation — and its home.

Students inflate their mattresses in classrooms and use the gym’s bathrooms to shower. The school cafeteria serves as their dining hall for the week. The teenagers can use the gym during their free time, and a band plays every night in the recreation room.

“I like playing basketball and listening to the worship music,” said Tanner Smith, 17, of Lincoln, Ill. “It’s inspiring.”

Ken Therrien said Christianity plays an important role in the camp’s mission.

“This camp gives teens the opportunity to have a week of Christian fellowship, all the while helping the local community,” he said. “The work is a vehicle for helping kids grow their faith.”

Most of the teenagers who attend work camp are practicing Christians, but campers of all faiths are welcome, as long as they are willing to attend daily prayer.

At Cathy McCollet’s home in Kennebunk, Foster and her six peers looked disheveled, with smeared paint and rainwater covering their clothes and faces, but they were adamant about changing perceptions of the average teenager.

“In today’s world, everybody wants something. We are just giving,” said Katie Heindel, 15, of Sweet Valley, Pa. “Hopefully we leave the community with something good that they will always remember.”

Ken Therrien said the residents often are wary of having groups of teenagers at their homes, but their opinions change after they see the kids in action.

McCollet, 53, is especially grateful for the work they are doing. The cost of replacing the rotten siding on her house was estimated at $7,550, a price she couldn’t afford. Thanks to the work camp students, her house now looks new.

“I don’t have the ugliest house in the neighborhood,” McCollet said with a laugh. “They’re like miracle makers, and I have my miracle now.”

The teenagers said they are grateful for the kindness and respect McCollet has shown them. “Cathy made us brownies and always comes out to talk with us,” said Foster.

The work campers appear to have achieved their goals of repairing homes and improving teenagers’ image in the community, at least with McCollet.

She said local residents won’t soon forget the contribution the students have made.

“They have blessed me, and I am so appreciative of that,” she said. “I’ve been so appreciative I’ve been in tears.”

 

Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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