By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Catholics in Action volunteers barely had time to put down their hammers and screwdrivers before youths from Cole’s Mobile Home Court ran over to give their newly constructed playground equipment a try. A young girl named Bella eagerly gave the slide a test run. “It’s perfect!” she said, beaming.
From June 28-30, about 60 high school-aged youths in the Diocese of Davenport took part in the annual three-day service mission in Iowa City. Youths involved with Catholics in Action (CIA) were assigned to one of about 10 work sites, including the mobile home park.
Ed Cole, owner of Cole’s Mobile Home Court, said CIA’s offer to volunteer at the complex was an answer to a prayer. Cole sees his job as a mission from God to make sure low-income individuals in Iowa City have a safe, affordable place to live. Prior to installation of the playground, children of all ages shared an on-site soccer field as a play area. He thought it would be safer for the younger children to have a play area of their own. Cole and his wife invested $1,000 of their own money into the playground, with CIA covering the remaining $1,000 plus the cost of mulch. “I feel as if God … helped us make this connection with CIA,” he said.
Youths assigned to build the playground had the opportunity to get to know some of the tenants through a soccer match and a barbeque. This interaction helped CIA volunteers gauge how much their service meant to the youths. “The kids told us how excited and happy they were (about the playground),” said Eryn Anderson of St. John Parish in Houghton. “That gave us motivation. It touched my heart.”
For the first time, CIA youths had the opportunity to make beehives for local beekeepers — an effort inspired by Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si. Mike Linnenbrink, youth minister of the Catholic parishes in West Point, Houghton, St. Paul, Fort Madison and Farmington, said bee colonies have dwindled significantly in recent years. Environmentalists postulate common pesticides as a likely culprit, he said.
Youths built the beehives at hobby beekeeper Dave Irwin’s rural Iowa City farm. En route to the farm, Mary-Ellen Pfeiffer, youth minister for St. Mary and St. Alphonsus parishes in Davenport and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo, shared a news article about the pope’s efforts to increase bee populations at the papal gardens in Italy. This is similar to what Irwin and others are trying to do in Iowa City. The article helped the youths in her van understand how declining bee populations affect people and the environment. “It affects more than one person,” said Meghan Keeney of St. Peter Parish in Buffalo. “Bees affect food and help the ecosystem through pollination. We need more bees to survive so that we can survive.”
Gillian Marbury of St. Alphonsus Parish in Davenport said she was initially afraid to participate out of fear of getting stung, but was relieved that the construction location was far from any live colonies. She and Bishop Martin Amos worked together constructing hives. “It’s a good feeling knowing that we are making something that will be used,” she said.
Additionally, youths spent time volunteering at Ronald McDonald House, cleaning a ditch and serving meals to those in need. Lucky’s, a new grocery store in Iowa City, donated $5,000 worth of food for CIA volunteers to deliver to Crisis Center Food Pantry in Iowa City.
Don Boucher, diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation, said this year’s CIA was successful because of what youths were able to do and because of the example set by Cole, Irwin and others using their profession or hobby to serve God and others. “They are great examples for our young people that help show them that their work and their play can truly make a difference in the world.”
Elizabeth Barr of Holy Family Parish in Ft. Madison, said, “It’s nice knowing you can come out and be a positive influence on people’s lives.”