By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Throughout the summer, Sister Marilyn Schierbrock, CHM, works with youth from across the United States to improve a central-city neighborhood.
The youth spend a week doing a variety of volunteer jobs in Davenport. What they see and learn is to be brought back to their hometowns where they are encouraged to serve their communities. They and their leaders are part of YouthWorks, a Christ-centered, life-changing youth mission trip organization.
This summer, more than 35,000 youth were expected to participate at 72 sites in 69 communities, including Davenport, according to the YouthWorks Web site.
Sr. Schierbrock said this is the eighth or ninth summer she has had youth help with duties in a central city section of Davenport that includes Humility of Mary Housing and Humility of Mary Shelter.
On July 23, two groups were working in the area of Sixth and Vine streets. That morning they were pulling weeds, planting bulbs and flowers and adding mulch. They also worked in shifts serving meals at Café on Vine.
During a water break, youth from Alabama and Pennsylvania spoke about their experience. They arrived July 20 and were in their final day of work before heading back home. Trip Healey, a youth pastor from Montgomery, Ala., was the leader, on his fifth trip with YouthWorks.
He said he chose Iowa because he wanted an inner-city site that was within reasonable driving distance, affordable and offered a cultural shift.
“I like the urban sites,” he said. The youth worked at a shelter, soup kitchen, skate church, geriatric daycare and did outdoor work. “This is a unique ministry (in Davenport). It really opens your eyes and I hope the youth bring home what they saw and experienced to then work in their communities.
“You see that being present makes a difference.”
One example of that was when Sr. Schierbrock went to check on a group sprucing up the front yard of an abandoned house with flowers. The next-door neighbor asked her if she could get some flowers. “We’ll get you next week,” Sr. Schierbrock promised. The neighbor smiled in return.
“That is one more person who opened up to us to help them. That’s what it takes,” Sr. Schierbrock said.
Brooklyn Weldon, also of Montgomery, said she had a good experience interacting with people at the shelter. She also did quite a bit of outdoor work pulling weeds, digging bulbs and planting flowers.
Andrea Nye of Erie, Penn., said she has seen how doing one small thing can make a change. “I learned we can make a difference. We can change things at home.”
Nathan Miller, also of Erie, felt the week was great. “I learned a lot of new things. Trip has taught me about gardening and I worked in a soup kitchen. I like working in the kitchen.”
Healey said interacting with others is important. But learning about a neighborhood through your senses is important, too. A half-hour prayer walk one evening was done in silence. “You use your senses to pick up on things. You look. You smell. You hear.”
Sr. Schierbrock checked in with the second group, pulling weeds and laying down mulch. As she walked, she waved to neighbors and stopped to talk with them. One commented about the good work the youth were doing. Another asked a question about an upcoming community picnic.
When Sr. Schierbrock began her ministry in the neighborhood about 10 years ago, she wasn’t sure about her safety. But she’s become a familiar face in the neighborhood and feels at home.
A couple of years into the ministry, she received a call asking if she’d like to have youth help do service work in the summer. “Sure I’ll take them,” she said. Since then, she has gladly taken groups throughout the summer.
There are two purposes to having the youth help, she said. One is to give the neighborhood’s youth a role model and the second is to inspire families to take pride in and respect their neighborhood.
YouthWorks participants can expect to do a variety of volunteer jobs. Earlier in July a delivery of food arrived at the Central City Circle Community Food Pantry. She had the youth bring in food, go over invoices and stock the shelves. Some have worked in the clothing center and others in the Central City Circle Community Garden.
The work benefits the youth as well as the neighborhood and hopefully brings about positive change for both. “Maybe we’ll have some people who have a change of heart around here,” Sr. Schierbrock says. “There is no way I could do this without the help of the youth.”