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‘Not what I expected’: reflecting on my Catholic Heart Workcamp experience

By Laura Wynohrad
Special to The Witness

OSAGE — I got to experience my first Catholic Heart Workcamp this year. At the beginning of the week, Beth Hoppel, who has been going for the past six years, asked me what I thought of it and I told her, “It’s pretty much what I expected.” I knew it was going to be a week filled with meeting new people, eating cafeteria food, sleeping on an air mattress in a classroom with 10 girls and having to wait in line to shower. I knew there would be good music and fun skits put on by the CHWC staff. I knew that I would miss my family and my home. I knew that I would have to spend many, many hours driving five girls to and from Oklahoma City and that I was responsible for their safety on our journey. I knew that at times I would be hot and uncomfortable and that I would have to work hard at our work site with people that I had never met before for the entire week. I knew that by the time the week was over I would be ready to come home.

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All of these things did indeed happen, just as I predicted. Beth did a great job of preparing me for the week by telling me over and over again of all these things that I should expect.

But I was not prepared for what would happen to my heart at CHWC. I had no idea that I would feel my heart double in size with love for the kids that I came in contact with! I did not expect to be assigned to help at a school for children with disabilities. And I certainly didn’t expect to fall instantly in love with all of the kids there, to the point where the thought of leaving them brought tears to my eyes. I certainly didn’t expect to have the time of my life playing Apples to Apples with a group of 14-year-old children with disabilities, but I sure did. I didn’t expect to develop a crush on a 3-year-old boy named Peter who has cerebral palsy, and to feel my heart melt as we held hands during the school’s morning assembly as he called me “wa-wa”. Nor did I expect to be comfortable wiping noses and receiving hugs from 4-year-old kids that need help going to the bathroom and are nonverbal. I didn’t expect to be immensely impressed by Special Care, the school that I was assigned to, or to learn that their therapist who works with kids on the autism spectrum is respected around the world for the work he does with the kids there. I didn’t expect to see so much JOY and LOVE at that school given freely by all the teachers and staff to every single kid there.

I didn’t expect to open my heart to the kids in our youth group or to see the beauty of Christ in their eyes. I didn’t expect to laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh and laugh every single morning and evening with these kids as together we shared meals, attended Mass and sang our hearts out in worship. I didn’t expect to hear them share their struggles with me or to pray with them. I didn’t expect to form a bond with the other chaperones as we worked together to meet the kids needs all week. I really didn’t expect that I would not be able to sleep on my first night home because my heart ached to be apart from these kids and the kids at Special Care. But that’s what happened. All of this and more actually did happen to me and I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to spend a week serving in Jesus’ name. I gave and received more love this week than I could have ever imagined.

I gave my heart to the kids, and I expect that I will never be the same.

Wynohrad is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Osage, part of the St. Isidore Cluster.

Wynohrad (bottom right) was a chaperone for a group from the St. Isidore Cluster that went to the Catholic Heart Workcamp this summer in Oklahoma City from June 19-24. She is pictured with the work group of students from the Midwest, including people from Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. (Contributed photo)