By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Youths from the Midwest converged on Davenport July 18-22 for Just5Days.
The five-day experience of service, hands-on learning activities, prayer, liturgy and community building is designed for middle school youths (grades 7-9) and their adult leaders from Catholic parishes and schools, according to Center for Ministry Development which runs the program.
Just5Days is held in different sites throughout the United States, including Davenport. This year St. Ambrose University in Davenport hosted the youths and leaders. Mary-Ellen Pfeiffer, site coordinator for Just5Days in Davenport and program director for other states, said participants came from Davenport, Dubuque, Donnellson and Marshalltown, Iowa; Moline, Ill.; Rapid City, S.D.; and Milwaukee, Wis.
“It is not easy to get sites for middle school youths,” Pfeiffer said. “Unfortunately, people don’t always believe in the ability of these amazing youths.” That’s why she talks with people in the community, making connections and networking. As a result, many sites the youths work at are repeat sites from previous years.
Organizations served this year (all in the Quad Cities) were Alternatives for Older Adults, Camp Abe Lincoln, Eagles’ Wings Retreat Center, St. Joseph the Worker House, Café on Vine, ARC of the Quad Cities, Courtyard Estates of Walcott and Nahant Marsh. “Weather made this camp particularly difficult and we are very thankful to the Mississippi Valley Blood Bank and Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences. They filled in as inside sites so we could bring teams in that were uncomfortable in the rain and heat,” Pfeiffer said.
At Eagles’ Wings in west Davenport, Marcia Moore welcomed five youths from Milwaukee. During the three, on-site work days, she began each day with prayer, song and a reading.
The retreat center had a lot of outdoor work to be done. Youths stained wood chairs, cleaned a garage, pulled weeds, dug a trench for an electrical line, fixed lawn mowers, cleaned a deck and trimmed trees, among other projects.
The biggest project involved moving a memorial garden and enlarging its area. Michael’s Garden honors babies who died by miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion. A rock inscribed with a name or maybe a date on the bottom, and typically with a flower painted on top, is placed in the garden area. Youths Catherine Carroll, Jack Perhach and Jonathan Lukas shoveled pea-sized gravel from the old site and placed it in buckets. They dug up dirt for sod to be transferred. Volunteers Maribeth and Mark Green of Davenport worked with Milwaukee chaperone Amy Lukas on digging the sod for transfer to the new memorial site. Maribeth said the memorial’s statue had been knocked over by wind farther up the hill, which was one reason for moving the memorial.
Jack Perhach washed down the retreat house’s deck and helped paint a wooden chair and dig at the memorial site. Madison Kruger painted the wooden chair and helped trim dead branches and twigs from a tree. Lukas, the Milwaukee chaperon, said Just5Days gives youths a great exposure to service.
Ethan Goll said he participated “because it seemed like the right thing to do. This mission trip is about learning skills and helping people.” Catherine Carroll said she wanted to do something and Just5Days “sounded cool.” Her favorite part of the retreat was an evening activity at St. Ambrose with all of the youths. Each designed a mason jar, placed a candle inside and prayed together. Each one also chose a word to describe a strength they had used that day. Catherine chose the word “courage.” She relied on courage to help her work on projects she wasn’t used to doing. She wanted to give up a couple of times, she said. It took courage to keep going.
“We are very blessed to have (Just5Days) in our area,” said Don Boucher, director of faith formation for the Diocese of Davenport. “This is very well put together and very welcoming for junior high-age students to provide an experience of missionary discipleship.” Just5Days teaches skills, Catholic Social Teaching and provides a great opportunity to do good justice work while meeting young people from across the country, he added.
The youths also appreciated their accommodations at St. Ambrose. Pfeiffer said St. Ambrose served as a wonderful host site and its facilities were far superior to past facilities used. “You have no idea how much we, the program team, appreciate the absolute dedication of this institution. We hope that it is the beginning of a long-term relationship.”