By Celine Klosterman
Shortly before noon Monday, teenagers volunteering at an Iowa City daycare poured milk into child-sized cups and helped spoon slippery grapes onto lunch plates. Around the same time, four youths volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity home pulled wooden boards and scraps from a shed and tossed them into a nearly overflowing trash bin. And at an agency and apartments for people with chronic mental illness, several teens gathered outdoors with residents for karaoke.
The youths were among about 80 who took part June 27-29 in Catholics in Action (CIA), an annual retreat which this year offered service opportunities in Iowa City, Coralville, Washington and Muscatine. Catechesis, prayer, reflection and fellowship also played major roles in the retreat, which students said left them feeling as if they’d made an impact.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Sara Beary as she took a break Monday from cleaning out a Habitat for Humanity home in need of sprucing up after a former resident left. She and three other youths from St. Mary Parish in Albia spent the morning at the Iowa City home, after Sunday’s large-group service painting and yard work effort at the Crisis Center of Johnson County.
Such work and meeting other Catholic youths made the retreat valuable, said she and teammates Zach Sulentrich and Lisa Jaeger.
“We really, really appreciate the help,” said Michelle McMillan, volunteer coordinator for Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity. “It’s dirty, gross work,” but it will help provide a nice home, she added.
A few miles from the Habitat for Humanity site, Klaire Wisniewski noticed that the children she and fellow youths had been working with appeared to appreciate Catholics’ efforts, too. “They seem really happy when you help them,” she said of about 10 2- to 7-year-olds at Home Ties child care center.
She and three other students from St. Mary Parish in Pella played with, read to and helped supervise and feed children at the daycare, which serves mostly low-income families.
“We started three new kids today, so the extra manpower was a great help,” said Amanda Nelson, lead teacher for preschool-age children. “We love to have teenagers work with them;” youths and children have good rapport, she added.
After a lunch break, about 10 youths went to work on various projects in Iowa City at the Pheasant Ridge Neighborhood Center, a human services agency.
“This is a great learning experience,” Madison Murhammer, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, said of CIA as she picked up trash outside the center. “While learning about your faith, you learn more about people in need in the community, and they really appreciate your help.”
Inside the center, Jasmin Tone and Alex Gerleman of St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant organized shelves of children’s books while describing a project the Catholics had finished that morning. Elsewhere they’d helped mulch and move gravel, and though the work was hard, it was rewarding, both youths said. “Seeing what it looked like afterward made it worth it,” Jasmin said.
Reflection and discussion also helped youths see the impact of volunteering, according to Zoie Yetley. “The difference you’re making really sinks in,” she said after a game of bingo with residents of Lantern Park Nursing & Rehab Center in Coralville. People’s gratitude shows how much you contributed, too, said the member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
Lantern Park resident Merlin was among those who voiced appreciation for the St. Patrick parishioners. “It’s so nice to have you children here,” he said.