Every year, my church participates in a summer volunteer program in West Virginia called Camp Joy. This camp is a very special camp that allows citizens surrounding the area of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia to have the opportunity to receive free help fixing up their homes. It is a one week camp, in which the campers (or volunteers) set up tents at a camp site, and are literally camping. It is an extremely humbling experience and it allowed the youth at my church to see that not everyone comes from a privileged background.

My experience at Camp Joy this year was very positive and ultimately, I’m glad I went. Unless you’ve been to Camp Joy before, it’s impossible to understand how waking up at 6am every morning and working for 9 hours or more in the sun can be fun. Camp Joy runs every year due to a community effort. Every night, a different church in the area supplies the campers with a potluck dinner, so we didn’t have to pay for our food. People donate tools to Camp Joy, money and supplies used to fix these homes. During the week my church, St. Johns, volunteered at two homes: the house of Ken and the house of Laurie. At Ken’s house, we stripped his one level home of all its siding, then were replaced it with new siding. We also built him a front porch and replaced his rusted back door with a new one. At Laurie’s house, we built her a porch, and planted a garden. Each church at Camp Joy gets split up into two groups, to finish the two houses they are assigned to. We start working around 8a.m. and stop working around 5-6p.m. to go to dinner at whatever church is hosting dinner that night. After dinner, all the churches involved in the camp return to the camp grounds for a short church service called “vespers”.

What really made the trip fun, for me at least, were the people:  My fellow St. Johns members and the people that we were working for. The people that we helped were extremely grateful for Camp Joy and what we did for them. Personally my favorite house to work at was Laurie’s because she had a lot of animals on her property. Laurie owned chickens, peacocks, peahens, a horse, a cat, and a dog. It was fun working at her house because she would more often than not, come out to talk to us or help us work. She let us hold new born chicks and play with her pets.  I don’t know too much about what Laurie’s life has been like. I do know that she’s had a rough one. She has had many days where she had to choose between feeding herself and feeding her animals, and she seems to always feed her animals. To choose them over herself shows how caring and passionate she is, and but despite everything she’s been through, she didn’t seem bitter at all. Laurie was really nice to all of us and it made me really want to keep going back to her house to help.

Camp Joy is really an incredible experience. Volunteering is so important because it does not just benefit the person volunteering or even the community. It can benefit individual lives, and I didn’t realize this until I actually went to Camp Joy. It was such a humbling experience at the end of the week to receive a “thank you” from a woman who was now able to exit her home from the front door because of the porch we built her. Volunteering has the ability to leave a person with a sense of pride and self-fulfillment, that no other activity has the capability of doing.

Click HERE to see a beautiful photo video of Melissa’s CAMP JOY experience

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