What are Quaker Workcamps?

Quaker Workcamps are Quaker-based service programs of varying lengths and intensity that are committed to understanding and breaking the cycles of violence through education, understanding, reflection and action.  They were started in 1917, following the model of pacifist service that William James wrote extensively about in his 1910 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War.”  Our Workcamps, called William Penn Quaker Workcamps, operate from 3 Principles; Mindfulness, Connectedness and Making a Positive Difference. You can see more about these here. While people come from many places to participate in a Workcamp in DC, or we lead Workcamps in other places such as Pine Ridge, SD, we have a constant eye not just on connectedness to where we are. We stress the importance of letting the transformational experience also change how we are in our own community. The strength of Quaker Workcamps is they help people see that justice and equality issues are complex and interconnected, comprehensive of the whole community. These programs not only help us to understand that, but to see that each person can make a difference in many different ways, and that perseverance is the key to sustainable change.

What is the purpose of Workcamps?

The purpose of a Workcamp is to give participants an opportunity to explore the world as it is, to learn more about how we got here, to envision where we would like the world to be and to learn about ways that we can make a difference as groups as well as individually. As important, William Penn Quaker Workcamps are committed to being a part of a sustainable, healthy community, and in doing so, we often challenge the assumptions of participants that their significant impact is not in what they do while with us, but in having their experiences transform how they live in community wherever they go. With Mindfulness as our first principle, we reflect that every moment is a key moment, and we strive to have people experientially learn this.  More information and resources about Quaker Workcamps that teachers, parents, service leaders, and anyone wanting to know more about the philosophy, theology and ethics of Washington Quaker Workcamps, can be found on our Resource page. 

How do we start a program?

It all starts with a conversation about your desired goals, the age and size of your group, and the length of the Workcamp.  Our work together is a partnership trusting that when we exchange ideas and experiences, the result is a more enriching and meaningful experience for participants and the communities we are in. 

What forms are needed?

We send you a contract with a breakdown of fees, and you send it back to us.  For all participants, we also ask for a completed Registration and Medical forms

What do people do in Workcamps?

We work with group leaders to develop a program based on the ages and interests of the group that also meet needs in the community. In doing so, we stress that true needs emerge from relationships with people, not based on assumptions about people because of life conditions. Every individual is unique. We do recognize the importance of lobbying and advocacy as effective top-down change, but our role is to promote bottom-up change that engages creativity and a willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone.  We emphasize experiences from the grassroots level (such as helping with home and property maintenance, park and riverside cleanup) and volunteering in agencies that serve the community through structured programs. We often do include opportunities to explore and engage in top-down approaches as well.

A Sample Program about Poverty/Homelessnes/Hunger might include:

·       Installing and tending to vegetable gardens in underserved communities
·       a shift of meal preparation at a soup kitchen
·       help with gardening for an elder home-bound resident
·       help clean trash in the neighborhood
·       make sandwiches and hand them out at parks, personally engaging with people
·       meet with an organization that advocates for economic equality
·       meet a representative of an elected official to discuss issues in the community

Through reflection and education, we explore more deeply how issues are interconnected (such as homelessness, poverty, nutrition and the environment.  through both education and service

We also explore the values and beliefs within each of us and how they inform our visions and actions – basically to ask “why do we care?” – as well as what our individual and collective strengths are in taking action

We strive to balance the group’s desires with the community needs and with our own experiences and knowledge about service and justice.  There are inherent challenges in this.  As Service Learning has become a requirement in schools, and community service is often court-ordered, people often are compelled rather than called to service.  The shorter the Workcamp, the less opportunity there is to engage in a process and to develop relationships (although when we have on-going conversations with group leaders, and perhaps even meet with groups in their own community, we can have a better process.)  Increasingly, volunteer shifts at the more popular soup kitchens have to be booked months in advance.  In addition, people often enter into service with the notion that their service stint will change the world.  Our belief is that it is not what happens during the Workcamp, but what the participants do after the Workcamp that really matters.  How did the Workcamp raise awareness and consciousness to the issues in his/her community?  How can relationships with people (as opposed to issues) help us better address real need vs. perceived need?  What is the broad range of ways that people can make a difference?  How can each person’s talents and gifts be best utilized?  How might increased awareness influence what a person does in life, or how he/she views justice and equality?  How might one become a better steward of his/her resources?  How can you take personal responsibility for action while being a part of a larger action?  These are not questions to be answered quickly, but to be pondered and perhaps used as guides.  This is what we strive to initiate.

 We are attentive and knowledgeable about the developmental stages of participants, so we design experiences and reflections to engage them at their level. For older participants (late high school and older) for example, we may have discussions with the group about the real depth of commitment to any work includes the following:

To have any lasted effect, our heart must be moved by compassion

We may find it intimidating

We may have to use our own resources

It may be inconvenient

It may be expensive

We may be ridiculed

We will have to take ongoing responsibility

Everyone is our neighbor, including people across the globe and future generations

How do Workcamps reflect Quakerism?

Many Quakers recognize Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship as the “Quaker Testimonies”.  At William Penn House, we recognize that these testimonies are interconnected, and in our programs we seek to grow towards a holistic vision of how to express them through how we live.  We start with one of the fundamentals of Quaker theology – “there is that of God in all” – as our premise.  Through a variety of experiences, we explore the world of social justice through the lens of Community, and reflect on how we can bring greater Equality to the world – starting in our own community.  An important part of this is to go out with Simplicity of heart and mind, meaning to be conscious of our own assumptions and prejudices about others, and to strive to put those aside so that we can seek the common bonds of humanity despite differences.  The result is that we learn how to break through divisive barriers that are at the core of violence and injustice – classification of “us” and “them” – thus bringing greater peace and understanding.  Out of this flows greater Integrity in how we live in accordance with what we espouse, and in the relational work we can bring greater Stewardship to the world.

If you are interested in participating or developing a Workcamp, or a program that explores issues in other ways, we would love to talk with you.  Please call us (202-543-5560) to discuss your ideas.