Chris Hitzelberger had a powerful experience when he volunteered to help repair houses in rural Virginia four years ago. "What struck me is the poverty that is in our backyard," Hitzelberger said.
When Hitzelberger thought of poverty he thought of the inner city or Appalachia. Yet here was rural poverty just 80 miles south of Alexandria.
Hitzelberger, who is 29, also was struck by the many Catholic teens with him who were "giving so much of themselves." Many times we think of teens as self-centered, said Hitzelberger, coordinator of youth ministry for Blessed Sacrament Catholic Community on Braddock Road in Alexandria.
From June 23 to June 30 a few dozen Catholic teenagers and several adults from Alexandria and Mount Vernon are traveling to Orange County to do repairs to the houses of poor residents there. They will be among more than 300 teens and 200 adults from the area who are going on the trip, according to the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
Volunteers will break into 60 teams, comprised of five teens, a contractor and one to two adults, according to the Arlington Diocese. They will work on making 70 homes warmer, safer and drier by repairing roofs, bathrooms, kitchens and windows.
MOUNT VERNON RESIDENT Arlen McKeague, 15, went on a similar work trip last year. He is going again because such trips "bring us closer to those who are not endowed with what we have." Living in Mount Vernon, he said, "we don't see the big picture of how everyone lives."
Alexandria resident Sam Sheetz, 16, is going again on the work trip "because I had such a good time. It felt really good to help out people with desperate needs for their house," Sam said.
Last year Sam installed a door for a single mother with six kids, he said.
Alexandria resident Charlie Reynolds, 16, went on the last trip. "The residents were really thankful of us," he said.
Each teen has to contribute $400 toward the costs of the trip. Area churches held fundraising drives to cover all or most of these fees.
The area Catholic churches sending volunteers are: St. Mary's Catholic Church in Old Town, Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Mount Vernon, St. Louis Catholic Church in Mount Vernon and Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.