Eight adults and 14 youths from parishes in Oxford, Cosgrove, Pella and Coralville headed to David, Ky., this summer to improve homes in one of the poorest areas in the United States. During the Aug. 4-11 mission, volunteers stayed at St. Vincent Mission Volunteer House and helped the organization with three home rebuilding projects. In addition, volunteers worked on repair projects at the volunteer house. The mission trip has been an annual event for more than 15 years and is coordinated by St. Thomas More Parish with assistance from Deacon David Montgomery, whose wife, Michelle, is director of Youth Ministry for the parish.
A homily by Deacon David Montgomery
Early on a Saturday morning, 22 youths and adults from St. Thomas More, Coralville; St. Mary, Oxford; and St. Peter, Cosgrove; loaded luggage and tools into vehicles bound for the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky. This was a first trip for some of us and a return to the work we started over a decade ago for others.
Fifteen hours and several buckets of cookies later (thank you Mrs. Barkalow), we arrived at the St. Vincent Mission volunteer retreat house that we helped to build last year in David, Ky., the same town where the David School continues to serve the youths in the area needing assistance.
The next day we learned about the three main job sites where we would work for the week. Site one was at the mission, mudding and painting new office walls that the prior group had built. The second site was finishing a ceiling; not sure if it needed mudding or just painting. We didn’t know yet where the previous group had stopped work. The third job was to help Elmer, the retired mission volunteer supervisor, improve the support structure for the floor joists of a house, level the floor and lay new flooring in a bedroom.
Simple enough. Nothing we hadn’t done before. Then it happened. Not all at once but gradually each day. What started as simple became increasingly challenging.
For the job at the mission, add another window. Of course this meant cutting through the outside wall. What’s that moldy smell? Probably the insulation in the wall. Well that’s strange. The outside of the insulation is held in by boards but the vinyl siding is exposed. We need to tear off the inside wall, the entire wall. Then remove the insulation, remove the vinyl siding, replace the insulation, seal the outside wall, rehang the siding and finally tape, mud and paint the inside wall. What started with a window replacement became the reconstruction of an entire support wall.
Three days left.
The second job also had work that was added on. After we mudded and sanded several layers, the owner wanted the ceiling texturized. Not a big deal, but it added time. Then the group worked on landscaping the grounds at the mission and organizing the mission warehouse for the Christmas event for local families to receive donated gifts.
The add-ons started at the third site as well: repairing the flooring underlayment in the hallway, adding a window, digging a drainage ditch and forming a new rear step and landing with cinder blocks, painting the bedroom and hallway walls and ceiling, installing carpeting in the bedroom and vinyl in the hallway, trimming out the hallway and other odd jobs.
These daily setbacks could have had a toll on our efforts. It would be easy to be discouraged. But we were all committed to complete the tasks set before us, even as the tasks were compounded and amplified. This was more than a weeklong church outing. We were on a mission: to serve Christ by serving others.
Each year we return to Kentucky on a mission trip, we learn more about the people and about ourselves. The people are proud of their heritage, rich in tradition that appreciates generations of family connections. In a population where 30 percent live in poverty and where only 10 percent are Catholic; 76 percent are Christian.
We were there to serve the needs of the people as best as we could. In the words of Isaiah, we were there to “observe what is right, do what is just.” The late Cardinal (James) Hickey of Washington, D.C., once said, “We aren’t there to help the people because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.” For us, the needs of the people were obvious. Work was placed before us as a gift for us to take up in service to Christ.
Charles Mascardo from St. Thomas More said, “In the end it’s about service and our dedication to see it through. Even though the deadlines made us nervous, it’s the giving mindset that’s of value.
Through these actions of kindness and giving we find the love that makes life worth living.”
We were foreigners to the people we helped, joined to the Lord in ministry to him, loving the people we helped in the name of the Lord and becoming his servants. Our thanks to all who helped make this mission trip a success.
Youths reflect on their experiences
Here is a sampling of the students’ reflections from the mission trip:
Josey Gale, 12th grade
This is the trip I look forward to every year. It’s one of those that you start counting down to. I have been blessed to experience the things I have on this trip; they have changed me for the better and have changed me forever.
Spencer Vance, 9th grade
Spencer completed his fourth trip to David, Ky. His parents also volunteer on the trip. He said of this year’s experience: It has been most definitely the best decision I’ve ever made to go. Meeting so many friends though the years and the families from Kentucky … not only are we rebuilding lives, we are building friendships and building a better community.
Megan Barloon, 9th grade
I had fun with everyone whether we were working or singing. I liked being able to help people and everyone was willing to teach us.
Grace Christopher, 10th grade
This was my third year on the trip and it was amazing even the third time.…. It was so fun to meet new people and grow with them as we worked side by side…. It was fun to see how they changed after our first project this year — working on the office for the mission rather than for a direct family. It taught me that there are so many different ways to impact people’s lives. It taught me that even the simplest task or things that might seem less important make such an impact to others. Overall, going to Kentucky is one of the best experiences of my life and I am so glad I started this adventure to come, learn and grow. I look forward to this trip every summer and I can’t wait ‘til next year!!
Riley Brunk, 11th grade
Riley made his first trip to Kentucky: It definitely was a cool experience. I got to use tools I’ve never heard of before in order to better someone else’s life. It was a fun learning experience and I do not regret going at all. I made a lot of new friends; I plan to help keep in touch with them. Can’t wait ‘til next year and grow some more!
Angelo Santiago, 11th grade
I went on this trip two years ago and loved every part of it and became a family with the Vances in particular. I came back this year because last year I made the bad decision not to go. The volunteer work that I do truly makes me feel happy. This year was the best summer trip I’ve made and I made a couple additions to the small family that I’ve gotten to know. Overall the trip was a lot of fun and I loved working on this family’s site. I could tell we made a home livable for this family.
Carley Spading, 11th grade
I can definitely admit I was nervous about coming. I have next to no experience with building, and I wasn’t close friends with anyone. But everyone was very understanding and friendly, committed. I had so much fun and learned a lot. I hope to come back next year.