Rows of sleeping bags line the floors of 18 classrooms in Red Lake Middle School. Quietly they lay, awaiting the return of hundreds of volunteers staying July 12-19 in Red Lake.
The volunteers are with Group Workcamps Foundation, a nonprofit organization which sends church youth groups, comprised of teenagers and adult leaders from across the country, to live in a community for one week and serve at predetermined project sites.
Unlike some volunteer organizations, Group Workcamps volunteers pay their own travel expenses and a registration fee, which is used to cover the cost of food, lodging and supplies.
"This program allows youth to get outside their own world and serve others," said director Lisa McCarty. "We have some kids who have never used a saw or a hammer and learn how to build wheelchair ramps or a deck."
Now in its ninth year in Red Lake, Group Workcamps brings 318 participants along with 20 staff members to the Red Lake Indian Reservation, working in Red Lake, Ponemah, and Redby.
"Many community members are pleased with what they do here," said Jeff Jourdain, who was with the Red Lake Housing Authority.
Group Workcamps participants split up into project teams called "crews" with at least one adult and five youth. Each crew works one week on home-repair projects, previously assessed by the Red Lake Housing Authority. This year 53 crews are working at 48 sites.
"I didn't know how to paint before I came here and now I'm painting every day," said a Group Workcamps volunteer from Michigan who was not identified. "The Red Lake residents taught us their native language which I thought was really cool."
One youth group brought 20 hand-sewn quilts from home as gifts from the volunteers to the residents they worked for.
"We are so appreciative of the Middle school that opened its doors to the more than 300 volunteers," McCarty said. "It's also been awesome working with the Red Lake Housing Authority," she added.
Group Workcamps is not the only volunteer group in Red Lake this week. Youthworks, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis has 50-70 participants from around the country staying in Red Lake each week for 10 weeks.
Youthworks volunteers work on small community service projects such as highway cleanup and painting projects.