By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Youths and chaperones dipped their paintbrushes in white paint and spread a fresh coat onto a well-worn shed at Eagles’ Wings in Davenport. Director Marcia Moore couldn’t help but smile as she witnessed the youths turning years of wear-and-tear into something worth showing off. “These guys are hard workers, they really are,” she said.
Youths volunteered for a week sprucing up the grounds at the nonprofit retreat and spiritual counseling center. “They’re making the grounds so much nicer than when they came. It helps us — we’re a volunteer organization and they’re volunteers, so it fits right in with our mission.”
Eagles’ Wings was one of about 10 volunteer sites this year for Just 5 Days, a national Catholic hands-on youth mission initiative through the Center of Ministry Development (CMD). Middle school-aged youths from across the Midwest came to the Quad Cities to participate July 20-24. In total, 76 youths and 14 adults participated, almost twice as many as last year. Participants came from Kentucky, Wisconsin, Chicago, central Iowa, the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, and the Diocese of Davenport.
This is the second year that the Davenport Diocese has hosted Just 5 Days. Diocesan youth ministers learned of the project when Susan Searle, Coordinator of Youth Ministry Services for CMD, was teaching a youth ministry certificate course at St. Ambrose University in Davenport a few years ago. Youth ministers Mike Linnenbrink, of parishes in West Point, Houghton, St. Paul, Fort Madison and Farmington, and Sara Scogland of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish–Bettendorf, asked Searle if Davenport could work as a host location. At the time, the diocese offered a high school-aged service project in Catholics in Action, but nothing similar for middle school students. Searle responded enthusiastically, Linnenbrink recalls. “She said she’d been trying to get something started in the Midwest for years, but just needed contacts.”
Youths spent five days volunteering at Eagles’ Wings, Nahant Marsh Education Center and Café on Vine in Davenport; St. Joseph the Worker House and Arc of the Quad Cities in Rock Island, Illinois; Alternatives for Older Adults in Moline, Illinois; Camp Abe Lincoln in Blue Grass; Hand in Hand in Bettendorf; and Courtyard Estates in Walcott. Some groups interacted with individuals with disabilities and the elderly, while others fed the hungry and worked on outdoor projects.
Mark Searle of CMD served as program director and flew in from the West Coast to attend. He was impressed by the variety of work locations arranged by Scogland and Mary Ellen Pfeiffer, Youth Ministry coordinator for the West Davenport parish cluster. He was likewise impressed with the number of youths who participated. “This is the largest group I’ve done in a couple of years.”
Youths at Camp Abe Lincoln helped build a ropes course, which they admitted was a lot more fun than trimming vegetation in preparation for trail-building. Xavier Cummins, a member of St. Peter Parish- Buffalo, said the grass and weeds were 1 to 2 feet high when they started, and mosquitoes and other biting insects in the woods seemed immune to insect repellant. By working together, they were able to brave the conditions and complete work they knew would benefit area youths. Mary Kauffman of St. Andrew Parish-Blue Grass said, “I wanted to help others that needed help.”
James Flattery, a seminarian for the Diocese of Davenport, joined the group at St. Joseph the Worker House, and appreciated the opportunity to spend time working alongside youths. “This gives me the opportunity to learn more about youth ministry, so if I’m fortunate enough to complete seminary, I’ll be better equipped to work with youth,” he said. “It can give me another tool in my belt to use and to be able to meet youth on whatever road they’re on.”
Youths participating in Just 5 Days this year stayed overnight at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf and participated in religious education. This year’s theme was “The Body of Christ.” Brileigh McCumsey, a member of St. Alphonsus Parish-Davenport, said she liked meeting new people at Lourdes and doing activities with other youths.
Linnenbrink said many of the youths left Just 5 Days with a new outlook on service. “I saw huge transformation in kids just becoming more aware of the needs of people in their community.”