By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Four eighth-graders smiled as they sorted through pop can tabs behind the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City on Oct. 28. Inside the building, a few of their Regina Catholic Education Center classmates stirred brownie batter, tossed a salad and browned beef for a lasagna dinner. A young girl with pink casts on her legs looked on as her mother made breakfast in the adjacent kitchen.
Ronald McDonald House, which provides a home-like respite for families whose children are undergoing medical treatment at the nearby University of Iowa Hospitals, was one of many places in Iowa City where Regina junior high and high school students could be found performing acts of service.
Service Day is a yearly tradition for the students. Shelly Conlon, campus minister and theology teacher, said it’s important for the students to do the work because “the Catholic faith and social teaching ask us to. Secondly, it’s an opportunity to give back to the amazing Iowa City community that we are so blessed to be a part of. … We try to provide a variety of opportunities to encourage students in all the ways they can serve others.”
Eighth-grader Natalie Green, one of the students helping at the Ronald McDonald House that day, said seeing the families in tough situations offered her a new perspective on life. “I feel like, as kids, we take a lot of things for granted. I feel like this helps us realize how blessed we are.” Her classmate Abby Clark chimed in, “Helping others makes me feel good.”
Students did a variety of tasks across the city, including basic landscape work. Longtime librarian Joan Belknap supervised a group of male high school students raking and weeding the grounds at Pathways Adult Day Care, and got in on the action herself. Teachers and students were able to request specific work sites that interested them. Belknap wanted to serve at Pathways because of its significance in her life. Pathways gave her late mother the opportunity to maintain independence for much longer than she would have otherwise. “I got emotional about coming here,” Belknap said. The caregivers “were wonderful” to her mother.
Another group of students helped out at the new Catholic Worker House. David Goodner, a live-in volunteer, said he and other Catholic Worker community members started the day by breaking bread with the group of sophomores. “We talked about the history of the Catholic Worker Movement, and then got down and dirty.” The group scrubbed the front porch and back deck, swept and mopped the first and second floors, organized cleaning supplies, food, toiletries and bedding, planted three fruit shrubs and pruned a raspberry bush. “We were blessed,” Goodner said.
Conlon hopes that the annual service day will help set the stage for a lifetime of service for the students of Regina Junior and High School. “Our hope is that service becomes a way of life for our students and this is just a very small taste of what that can look like in their own situation.”