By Celine Klosterman
Three days of service and reflection on Catholic Social Teaching helped youths in the Diocese of Davenport recognize poverty in their communities — and showed students how they could make a difference.
From June 24-26, 88 people from 14 parishes participated in Catholics in Action. The diocese’s annual service retreat took youths to nonprofit organizations and individuals in need throughout the Iowa City, Washington and Muscatine areas. Students served meals, cleaned, painted, did yard work, completed other tasks or interacted with senior citizens or people with special needs.
For many participants, a highlight was serving as a large group June 24 south of Iowa City at Regency Mobile Home Park, where many low-income, disabled and elderly residents live in run-down homes. There, youths helped do tasks the residents can’t, such as removing trees or branches that could damage homes, or removing trash the residents couldn’t lift or couldn’t afford to take to the landfill. This year, projects included demolishing an abandoned mobile home that was an eyesore and potential hazard and building a fence for a family that includes three sons with autism.
Helping build the fence for Regency resident Rick offered perspective to Audrey Simpson, an incoming high school freshman and member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.
“Meeting Rick and his family really helped to show that poverty isn’t just a nameless face somewhere, but people with a story and right to be treated with the same human dignity as anyone else,” she said. “It was humbling to see the means by which Rick lived and then go back home to clean water and a fenced-in yard.”
Since CIA, Simpson has thought about Rick’s situation when she’s bought or wanted new things. “There’s a lot more I could be giving in both my time and money,” she said.
The service retreat also left an impression on Ben Snyder, 16, of St. James Parish in Washington. “My favorite part was seeing how happy everyone was who we helped.” A Regency resident in a wheelchair was especially grateful for youths who tended her garden, Snyder recalled. And people with mental challenges who live at Chatham Oaks in Iowa City — some of whom he was told rarely receive visits from family — were happy to play games and spend time with youths.
CIA “is a good opportunity to take a few days out of your ordinary life and see how other people live and the problems they face,” he said.
Andrew Jacobs, a member of Prince of Peace Parish, said the retreat showed him the importance of service large or small. In addition to serving at Regency, his parish’s team volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House and Goodwill of the Heartland in Iowa City and Lantern Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Coralville.
“During those three days, I saw the joy that I could bring to another person through something as simple as sitting down and having a conversation with them. The people I served also showed me that, yes, I may be one person, but I can still make a difference in someone’s life.” Jacobs said he’s now inspired to continue serving others.
Tessa Lamartine, 16, of St. Boniface Parish in Farmington wants to volunteer more often, too. Serving a meal through the Free Lunch Program in Iowa City opened her eyes to the need in the community.
“It makes me have much more thanks towards my parents and God,“ she said. “In a way, I could have just as easily been on the other side of the table recieving the food instead of serving it. This has made me want to help out at our local soup kitchen as much as possible.“
Such service fits into Catholic Social Teaching, which CIA participants discussed, said Linda Gent, youth minister at St. James Parish. She and Mike Linnenbrink, youth minister for parishes in West Point, Houghton, St. Paul and Farmington, were CIA directors.
Youths focused on two of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching — the life and dignity of the human person and the option for the poor and vulnerable, Gent said.
“We’re all called as Christians to reach out to others. This gives youths the opportunity to do that while working among their peers.“