Allison Dittmer had a different view of service at this year’s Catholics in Action youth service retreat.
After spending much of two days at CIA 2008 in the mucky basement of a flood-damaged home in Cedar Rapids, Allison was back in that city on June 28. But this year, she scrambled up a tall ladder to paint another home being renovated after the flood.
“Last year, we cleaned out a destroyed house. This year we were putting one back together,” said Allison, 16, of Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher. “Last year, I couldn’t imagine how they’d start picking up the pieces. This year, driving past some of the same houses, seeing new paint and siding, I realized we helped make a difference.”
Whether they were up a ladder slinging paint or on the ground bracing the ladder, the 99 CIA participants climbed to new heights. Robert Menner helped paint the trim on a house damaged in last year’s flood.
“It was weird to think that they wanted us to help them out, and people would see our work for years to come,” said Robert, 17, of St. Mary’s Parish in Grinnell. “They weren’t worried that we might mess it up completely. I felt kind of proud that our work would be seen and it didn’t look half-bad. The lady who lived there seemed really thankful that people came to work for her.”
CIA brought together youth and adult leaders from 17 parishes across the diocese for three days of service, prayer, learning and fun. The catechesis this year focused on the church’s call to serve the poor and vulnerable and to care for God’s creation. Many sites that youth served at reflected these themes. Youth prepared food for distribution at the Johnson County Crisis Center, helped the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center settle into a temporary home after last year’s floods, and mastered the art of mulching at several other sites.
Some worksites rewarded the youth with smiles, whether it was happy children playing on a newly mulched playground or laughing senior citizens who sang karaoke duets with CIA participants. Many worksite hosts praised the efforts of Catholics in Action.
“This year’s crews were exceptional,” said Ed Zastrow, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City. “They were very diligent in performing their assorted duties, and as always, were cheerful and eager.”
Youth also earned praise from Brad Fox, principal of Clear Creek Amana Middle School in Tiffin, which served as home base for the participants. The school provided a place to meet, eat, sleep and shower, and CIA participants were able to help the school move books and supplies into its new building.
CIA participants also prayed and played in God’s creation. The group enjoyed a cookout and swimming at F.W. Kent Park on Monday, and Masses were celebrated on Sunday and Tuesday.
At the closing Mass, Father Jeff Belger blessed wooden crosses which were presented to each participant in a commissioning service. Allison heeded the call she was given with her cross to “go and serve,” but as she goes forward, she wants to come back to CIA next year.
“It’s great being part of helping people get back on their feet, back to normalcy,” she said.