WORTHINGTON – If home is where the heart is, then it’s understandable that most people would prefer to remain in the physical space where they feel comfortable and safe.


However, when a disability, health crisis or advancing age make it more difficult to get around, some find it challenging to stay where they’d prefer to be.


Enter the Worthington Work Camp, an ecumenical project that is scheduled for July 7-13 and will benefit dozens of area residents.


“We want to help keep these places more livable and safe for their residents,” said Tim Bickett, the local coordinator of a 10-person core team coordinating the effort.


“This will help seniors, the disabled - really, anyone in need of assistance with something of this nature.”


During that July week, 436 people - youths and adult volunteers from churches in Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and other Minnesota communities - will be based in Worthington while pursuing 65 projects (all within a 30-mile radius of town) that aim to improve livability and accessibility.


“For some, the barrier is financial; for others, it’s physical, and of course for some it’s both,” said Bickett, explaining why there is a need for aid in building or repairing wheelchair ramps, steps and other home access points.


With the support of a $5,500 grant from the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation, the materials needed to execute the accessibility-related projects will be provided at no cost to the homeowners.


“These funds are specifically directed toward the projects having to do with people better accessing their homes, whether that involves new wheelchair ramps, fixing old ones or repairing steps,” said Jeff Rotert, WRHCF’s executive director.


Bickett and his wife, Stacy, are American Lutheran Church members. With three children of their own, they have been active members and leaders of their church youth group over the past several years.


It was a summer 2017 American Lutheran youth mission trip to Chillicothe, Ohio, that opened the Bicketts’ eyes to the potential - and need - closer to home.


“I was a parent chaperone on a similar project that year in Ohio, and when we were on our way home we thought, ‘We should do this in Worthington,’” said Bickett.


“We started brainstorming, completed an application within the next 60 days and then had to wait for approval from the sponsoring organization - Group Mission Trips - and begin making plans and gathering our resources,” he explained.


The 10-person core team’s first and most critical task was securing housing for the hundreds of volunteers expected to attend.


“We were fortunate that District 518 was a willing housing partner,” said Bickett.


Volunteers will stay at Worthington High School throughout the week, using the cafeteria for meals, the gymnasium for programs and worship services, and the locker rooms for bathing.


“An event like this can only happen if there is shelter available, and the school district has been fabulous,” Bickett said.


He stressed that several other local businesses and organizations have contributed in various ways to the project - including Lampert Lumber, the project’s material supplier.


“They’re giving us special pricing on the materials so that is helping us stretch all our dollars, including those from the WRHCF grant,” noted Bickett.


The core team solicited and researched project sites, assisted with fundraising efforts and grant writing and navigated other logistics en route to solidifying the July plans.


While in Worthington, the high school-age youths (including 22 local students, most of them associated with American Lutheran Church) will have a pattern to their days.


With a theme of “Relentless,” they will start and end each day with morning and evening worship services, incorporate daily devotional time and work to complete the 65 projects set before them.


The week will be broken up with a Wednesday “fun afternoon” that will include a barbecue (courtesy of the Rock-Nobles Cattlemen and the Worthington Optimist Club) and recreational time at either the Centennial Park splash pad or the Worthington Area YMCA aquatics center.


“’Relentless’ works on many levels, considering Christ’s relentless pursuit of us, Christians’ ongoing search for Him and our collective efforts to relentlessly complete the jobs set before us,” Bickett explained.


Some of the participating students are expected to bring musical instruments to form an on-site praise band for the worship services; others may serve as worship emcees or prayer leaders.


The Bicketts hope the July 7-13 Group Mission Trip centered in Worthington will be successful.


“These projects will be entirely free to the homeowners due to the generous support of the WRHCF grant and other individuals and groups that have offered financial support,” said Bickett.


Added Stacy Bickett, “People have been so generous in supporting our community and kids that it’s amazing.”


“And beyond the physical work involved, this should have a long-lasting impact on many residents while helping to build up the next generation of community leaders by getting them fired up to go out and serve others.”


Rotert concurred.


“This is such a cool concept,” said Rotert, “and the way it will allow for more sustainable living for many while incorporating youth and volunteerism is great to see.”