Ahead Of Kentucky Mission Trip, Workcampers Fundraising Breakfast Returns
Newtown Ecumenical Workcamp Servants (NEWS) returned to a familiar routine last weekend, marking another post-pandemic step for the community.
NEWS campers, chaperones, alumni and supporters all convened for the group’s fundraising breakfast on March 11. Approximately 200 people gathered in The Great Room of Newtown Congregational Church (NCC), for breakfast, raffles, and heartfelt testimonials from workcampers and chaperones.
It was the first time since March 2020 that NEWS was able to present the breakfast, the largest annual event offered to raise funds for workcamp. The event helps cover the cost of transportation, materials, and chaperone tuition. NEWS is in its 29th year of hosting mission trips.
By late Saturday morning, dozens of people had enjoyed a full breakfast. If anyone left hungry, it was not the fault of the organizers, who had provided a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and potatoes.
Additionally, small plates of cut melon had been placed at each seat along with platters of Danish while urns filled with coffee were offered to every table by this year’s workcampers. Hot tea, juice and water were also available.
The workcampers acted as servers and runners all morning, while NCC Men’s Club members cooked most of the food as guests arrived. Tips left at tables raised funds for the group, as did the sale of raffle tickets.
Thirty-one young adults and 12 chaperones will be heading in late June to Kentucky, where they will work with Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to make homes warmer, safer, and drier for residents there.
On Saturday, many of those who have been on previous trips offered brief but heartfelt testimonials about their experiences. Each spoke from the heart, offering personal stories that touched on their reason for becoming involved in the workcamp program. Themes of meeting and befriending others, growth, bonds, respect and tolerance, and family were common among many of the speakers.
‘A Great Experience’
Brendan Connors was among the first to speak. He is in his third year of workcamp, he said, and called the program “a great experience.
“We see the other side of the world,” he continued. “I’m grateful to be in a position to help others.”
Alumni Jonathan Ingersoll said he learned a lot about himself and his community by participating in NEWS.
“It’s amazing how much you learn about yourself, and another community, in just a week,” Ingersoll said. “Those people welcomed us into their lives with open arms.”
Ellie Mouchantat, who was a workcamper for four years and is now in her third year as a chaperone, also spoke Saturday morning. NEWS and its work, she said, “is so much more than the work that has to get done. It’s also about the people.”
She talked about a woman she and her team worked with one year, when they did home repairs for a single mother with two children “in very challenging conditions,” Mouchantat said. “We could see the change in her as our week went on. Her life was improving because of what we did.
“The students really embrace all they can do. I’m excited for this year and what our kids will experience with ASP again,” she said.
Ben Rosenthal said he could not recommend the program enough.
Rosenthal recalled participating in workcamp two years ago, when COVID restrictions meant NEWS could not go out of the state as originally planned. Instead, groups went to homes in Bridgewater to help residents with smaller projects.
“We helped a lady who simply wanted to have her desk repaired so her children could play on it,” he said.
Rosenthal was also part of last year’s NEWS trip which, after two postponements, finally traveled to Puerto Rico.
“Helping people and seeing people with smiles on their face,” he said, “it’s very big to be able to experience that. It’s rewarding beyond anything you can imagine.”
Powerful First Impressions
NEWS Advisory Board member Jen Tousignant said the growth of each camper is “tremendous.”
“They really work well together,” she said of the young adults. “The level of collaboration, they demonstrate it in spades. The communities are amazing, but our kids are even more so.”
Mike Mandarano, who is chaperoning for the 15th time this year, said seeing the work sites can be emotional, “especially the first time seeing some of the homes.” He shared a story of a visit he and two workcampers made to a home years ago, when the teens were first exposed to living conditions of impoverished people.
“They were very quiet as they looked around this house, and then they went outside while I was still looking around with the homeowner,” he said. “I found them a little while later, sitting together in the back seat of our work van. They were sobbing.”
Mandarano called the program “a well-oiled machine.” Young adults and chaperones all learn, every year, about themselves and the world, he said.
“My DNA has changed because of this,” he said. “I cannot stop going.
“Trust me,” he added, addressing the parents in the room. “Your kids are good. We see how these kids are on these trips, and how good they are when they’re away from home. They may not let you see it, but I promise you: you are raising great kids.”
Returning emcee Jay Edwards kept the event moving, from welcoming remarks and the opening prayer to breakfast, testimonials, raffle drawings, and a Benediction.
While much of the attention was on the workcampers, Edwards made a point of raising a round of applause for NEWS chaperones.
“These folks lead by example,” he said.
He also offered a reminder for the morning’s purpose.
“This event really supports the work and ministry of this program,” he said. “This is a key way to fund our young adults, who will have a transformative week.”
NCC Senior Pastor Matt Crebbin offered an opening prayer and later a Benediction. Ahead of the second prayer, more than 30 raffle tickets were drawn, sending winners home with gift baskets and certificates from local restaurants, businesses, and other NEWS supporters. The final ticket was for a 50-50 raffle, with one lucky person heading out with $400.
Picking up on that theme, Crebbin opened his Benediction by joking that “we don’t always win what we want,” which drew a laugh across the room.
“Everyone here this morning is a winner, though, because you’re here today and we thank you for that,” he said.
Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.