By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
This summer, three diocesan youths and two adult volunteers experienced life among Native Americans in Nebraska during a week-long service mission.
The mission, Young Neighbors in Action, is organized annually by the Center for Ministry Development (CMD) for high-school youths.
During the mission, the youths and chaperones stayed at a reservation where Winnebago and Omaha tribes live. One of the major projects included beautifying and cleaning up a small Catholic school and its surrounding property. “It was a very impoverished community,” said Sue Anderson, a member of St. Mary Parish-West Point who served as an adult volunteer along with husband Mick.
Participating youths from the Diocese of Davenport were Joseph Hummel, Maggie Baker and Elsie Cardona.
The youths, along with 70 other high-schoolers from around the country, painted rooms inside the school and spread mulch on the playground. Additionally, they did clean-up work around homes and parks in the area.
Each day, the youths received faith lessons to go along with the work they were doing. The theme for the week was “Let God do the work.”
During their stay, the youths learned more about the Native Americans and their values. Native Americans reported that their culture is changing and becoming more assimilated; few people can fluently speak native languages anymore, and elders are hoping the languages won’t become permanently lost. Faiths vary from family to family.
Participants received life-lessons as they got to know the Native Americans. Sue recalls one story from a Native American that carried the message, “Take what you need and share the rest with others.”
Hummel, a member of the West Point parish, said one of the highlights of the week was taking part in a pow-wow. Youth volunteers had previously helped refurbish the outdoor pow-wow arena.
The pow-wow proved a powerful experience for the Andersons, as well. Veterans among the Native Americans have a tradition of putting up 75 American flags in the arena the morning of each pow-wow. They invited Mick, a Vietnam vet, to put up a flag. “That was very touching for us because their warriors are very honored,” Sue said.
Hummel said he enjoyed volunteering at the reservation, and was glad that Mike Linnenbrink, his youth minister, encouraged him to go. Linnenbrink said this is the first time people from the Davenport Diocese have participated in the mission, and he hopes more youths will participate in the coming years.
Sue said the Native Americans were very appreciative of the youths’ service work. “We got a lot of compliments.”