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As Annette Grant soaked up a humid Monday morning on the front porch of her Calhoun Street home in Bluffton, seven high school students worked diligently to paint interior walls, replace torn screens and remove rotting wood -- repairs the 73-year-old Grant can't do on her own.
The students, who come from across the country as part of the Catholic HEART Work Camp, have four days to finish the work. They are part of a larger group of about 400 students completing similar projects throughout Beaufort and Jasper counties.
The HEART camp, which stands for Helping Everyone Attain Repairs Today, was established by Catholic youth ministers in Orlando, Fla., in 1993. Under the program, student volunteers complete minor home repairs and yard work for elderly, disabled and low-income residents. It has grown into an international effort, involving more than 450 parishes and 10,500 campers across the United States, Jamaica and Mexico, said camp office manager Charlotte Nassis.
The camp has come to Bluffton for the past 11 years, according to the United Way of the Lowcountry, which identifies residents in need of the help. After volunteers finish their daily work, all 400 students gather at the Hardeeville School Complex for dinner and fellowship. At the end of the four-day project, they are given one free day to enjoy local attractions.
"All my friends went last year," said Johnny Cordera, a 15-year-old Memphis resident who volunteered for the first time this year. "My mom said it'd be good if I went and experienced helping others."
So far, she's been right.
"It's fun," Cordera said. "And we're meeting new people. We're all kind of friends now."
Not far from Grant's home, another group of students painted a house on Maiden Lane. The home also needs a power wash, new doors and floors, plumbing work and lawn care, said Rich Riggar of Lakeland, Fla., an adult volunteer supervising the students.
Shelby Waller, 18, who has volunteered for three years, hopes to work on the camp staff next year at its Oklahoma City location. She will attend Oklahoma State University in the fall.
"It's really eye-opening because you meet people less fortunate than you," she said. "And it's fun to meet people from across the country who share your faith and share your will to work."
Riggar agrees and said he became involved with the camp when his son signed up for it about three years ago.
"The work's hard, and half the fun is seeing if you can get it all done in four days," he said. "It's nice working with the kids and getting to know them and to see how appreciative the residents are. I don't know who gets more out of it -- us or them."