By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — From the steps outside his family’s trailer, 9-year-old Jordan sat grinning July 2 as he watched dozens of youths plant flowers and install hand rails on a wheelchair ramp they built for him.
“I like to see the smile on his face as we’re doing this,” said Luie Rascon, a member of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison. Rascon was among 88 teenagers and adult chaperones who took part in the Davenport Diocese’s June 30-July 2 Catholics in Action service retreat, which brought students to sites including Jordan’s neighborhood of Regency Mobile Home Park. “This is a great opportunity to help people out and see God at work through others.”
Born with a disability that leaves him unable to walk, Jordan lives at one of a dozen Regency homes where youths served this year. At other trailers, students helped clean yards, haul away trash, replace decaying flooring, install a door, paint and do other tasks for people with handicaps, senior citizens and immigrants.
Students also prepared a meal for the Free Lunch Program in Iowa City, laid bricks at the Crisis Center of Johnson County, did office and landscaping work at the Informed Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City, played bingo and visited with residents of Lantern Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Coralville, played games with people with mental challenges at Chatham Oaks in Iowa City, and volunteered at other organizations.
For Sarah Striegel of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, meeting people in need made a bigger impact than reading statistics about poverty and injustice. “Until you actually see it, it doesn’t hit you on a personal level,” she said at Regency.
The retreat “is a great way to put my faith into action and make a difference in someone’s life,” said Ben Snyder of St. James Parish in Washington. It’s nice to see members of numerous parishes working together, he added.
“They start out as a bunch of kids and end up as a group of friends,” observed parent Carrie Kramer of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison.
“We’re like a big family,” said Matt Ronnfeldt, a youth from St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. He and other students helped collect a truck-bed of mulch, dozens of plants and landscaping rocks donated by a Hy-Vee Drugstore in Iowa City for use at Regency.
The appearance of the mobile home park has improved since Catholics in Action participants first served there four years ago, said Ronnfeldt, who has joined the summer retreat annually since then. Residents sometimes pitch in when they see youths in action. “We do a lot of work, but we have fun doing it.”
Kelly Royston, who uses a wheelchair, voiced thanks for the work youths did at her home in Regency during the past two service retreats. “They reached what I couldn’t reach, weeded, cleaned up messes of birdseed, swept, washed my deck, cleaned branches off the roof and cleaned out the gutters,” the member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City said. “They were extremely polite and so willing to do what I needed. It was like a breath of fresh air to be around them.”
Regency resident Rebha Ingham also said she appreciated Catholics’ help. She’d hoped to get rid of old furniture and other clutter at her home, but said she had no truck to haul it away and couldn’t afford Dumpster fees. So youths helped remove the unwanted items for her.
Throughout Regency, students helped collect and dispose of 11 tons of debris, said Laura Westemeyer, a Catholics in Action leader and member of St. Joseph Parish in Hills. Her parish offered to pick up the Dumpster tab and applied for a grant to help cover the cost, she said.
In return for Catholics’ service, Ronnfeldt said, residents of the mobile home park offered a valuable lesson. “They teach us to be grateful,” he said. “We are so blessed.”
Retreat offers catechesis
Based at Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City, the Catholics in Action retreat included catechesis on the “two feet of social ministry.” Msgr. Marvin Mottet, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport, developed that model to explain the need for both charity, or direct service, and justice, or change that removes the causes of social problems.
Students learned about the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, an Iowa City-based organization that aims to address workplace justice, civil rights of immigrants, access to education and the need for affordable housing. Also during the retreat, immigrants spoke of the struggles they endured while trying to escape poverty in Central America.
Catholics in Action ended with discussion on how youths could implement the two feet of social ministry in their schools, parishes and community at large. A renewal day to be scheduled later in the year will reunite participants for further reflection, service and action planning.
Cluster parishes work with Regency
The cluster parishes of St. Joseph’s in Hills and St. Mary parishes in Lone Tree and Nichols have been working with residents of Regency Mobile Home Park in Iowa City throughout the year. All three parishes provide food items for a pantry that’s open Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon at Hills, said Carol Kaalberg, cluster coordinator for the parishes. “We have many people who come from Regency, and we are able to help with their various needs.”
The parishes also offer a Helping Hands fund for small emergencies such as partial payment of utility bills, gas or a prescription refill. “We often have requests from Regency residents.”
St. Joseph’s also provides space for an annual Christmas party for Regency families.