AFSC’s work camps were inspired by the initiatives of Swiss war resister Pierre Ceresole in Europe. Bringing work camps to the United States in the 1930s marked a transition for the Service Committee from healing the wounds of war to striving for justice as the way toward peace.

Volunteers spent a month, a summer, or a year working where they were needed. In their service to others, the participants cultivated their own devotion to the struggle for social justice.

According to noted work camp leader David Richie, post-war America had “serious unsolved social problems of unemployment, poverty, and racial tension.” Dave wanted people to combine the act of studying these problems with work to heal them.

After taking part in our first U.S. work camp in 1934, he went on to found and lead camps between 1940 and 1973. Richie also developed the first weekend camps, which could appeal to “less socially conscious young people and [help] them to grow in awareness and commitment.” For 40 years, work camping changed the lives of young people by giving them the experience that “work is love made visible."

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  • young men work with pipes and drilling equipment
    At AFSC’s first U.S. work camp in 1934, volunteers helped install a water system for coal miners at the Westmoreland Homestead, a federal resettlement community in Pennsylvania.
  • Two men in front of barn
    David Richie (right) visits the Westmoreland camp with lifelong Quaker activist Wilmer Young in 1934.
  • Three men work in empty lot, urban environment
    In 1936, work campers build a playground for children in the underserved neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia.
  • Navajo woman collecting water into bucket
    Before work campers built a new water system in 1940, Elta Blackgoat walked a half mile every day to obtain water for her family on the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation.
  • Men watch ceremony with many people inside arched structure
    In 1948, campers built two Quonset hut dormitories (dedicated here) allowing Navajo children to attend school, despite living long distances from school.
  • Young man and woman paint window frame
    A group of high school students spent half the summer of 1957 painting a community center for Russian refugees in Glendora, California. Photo: Olcutt Sanders
  • A group of people digs in clay soil
    Campers make adobe bricks with members of the Maricopa Indian Cooperative Association in New Mexico.
  • 3 rows of people lined up for photo in front of health center
    In 1952, a junior work camp focused on landscaping and construction work for a health center in the small village of Cuba, New Mexico.
  • Woman measures little girl's height with book
    Public health nurse Johnnie Smith measures carefully at the monthly prenatal and well-baby clinic run by the work camp in Cuba, New Mexico.
  • woman helps children build tower with blocks
    Elizabeth Graf encourages group work through building with blocks in Austin, Texas, in 1957.
  • large circle of young men and women in meadow
    The work camp experience included shared silence and group discussions about pacifism and the pressing problems of the region—here, at Lame Deer, Montana, in 1960.
  • line of small boys digs in vacant lot
    In 1962, at one of many camps founded by David Richie, a group of young work campers convert a vacant lot into a playground in West Poplar area of Philadelphia.
  • Smiling teenage boy and girl dance
    It’s not all work and no play at the West Poplar work camp in 1962.
  • White-haired man plays fiddle
    A 1969 camp in Pipestem, West Virginia, coincided with an Appalachian heritage festival that featured masters in traditional music, quilting, and other arts.