Volunteer Michael Brichta paints a house in Rockford, Ill. Eleven teens and two adult volunteers affiliated with Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Dearborn spent the week of July 4 in Rockford on a mission trip sponsored by the Catholic Heart Work Camp.
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
DEARBORN – When 11 local teens and two adult volunteers from Sacred Heart Catholic Church left town for a week on July 4, they weren’t headed for a sunny beach, quiet cabin or restful resort.
Instead they went to Rockford, Ill., where they spent the week painting, pulling weeds and helping others.
Once a major manufacturing center, Rockford for the last two decades has been cited by media sources as one of the least livable cities in the United States due to lack of jobs; outdated or closed factories; high crime and homicide rates; and extensive urban blight.
Their mission trip, one of many sponsored by Catholic Heart Work Camps, pairs church youth groups and volunteers with communities in need throughout the country. The faith-based camps provide a spiritual opportunity for teens and adults to put their beliefs into action by volunteering time and talent. They also provide evening spiritual and social opportunities.
When groups from around the country arrive at a work camp location, volunteers are assigned to project teams based on their skill levels. Most teams comprise strangers who become friends through their volunteer work experience, organizers say.
“You shouldn’t be scared off by the fact that you will be working with people you don’t know because you make friends fast,” said teen volunteer Mike Armstrong. “The whole point is to step out of your normal comfort zone and try something new. In the end, it is definitely rewarding.”
“My advice to any teen interested in a mission trip is to be open to the experience and meeting new people,” said teen volunteer Kyle Crane. “Take advantage of the opportunity. It is a great way to help less fortunate people, grow in faith, give to the community and have a good time.”
Adult volunteer and team leader Tim Core found it rewarding to see the teens, who were previously strangers, come together as a team to help those in need.
An environmental engineer with General Motors, he took vacation time to chaperone and lead the group. The team he led worked on three different houses.
Members did yard work, cleaned gutters and washed windows at one house for an older man with health issues. At a second house they did yard work for a woman who couldn’t speak. At the third they did interior painting and laid a floor for a visually and ambulatory challenged woman who had been swindled by a handyman whom she had paid but who took off after painting one wall.
“It was extremely rewarding to know that you made a difference in someone’s life,” Core said. One man was overwhelmed and moved to tears when he saw all the work volunteers completed for him.
“You can’t learn this lesson from the Internet or from a text message,” Core said.
Some teens worked with elderly residents at a senior citizen center. Others worked at a day care center for homeless children whose parents were job hunting.
College student Rachel Core, who has been on five mission trips, did yard work and house cleaning for several elderly women and helped paint a gym. However, she said, the time she spent with homeless children was the most rewarding.
“The five trips that I attended opened my eyes to see how lucky and blessed I am,” she said. “For example, hearing an 8-year-old boy say he does not have a bed to sleep in at night definitely made me appreciate everything I have.”
Team members say they gained valuable insight while painting the insides and outsides of houses; did household repairs, yard work and weeding; and painted a community center gym.
“The experience opens a person’s eyes to the help needed by everyday people who are grateful for every brush stroke and weed pulled,” said teen volunteer Katie Suchyta.
Teen volunteer Joana Aldrich helped paint a house and a garage. She was moved by the satisfaction she saw in people whose houses benefited from the group’s help.
“It changed me by wanting to do more of the work that we did here at home,” Joana said, “so I could better our neighborhood.”
The teens also realized that there are many material things in their own lives they sometimes take for granted.
Teen Mike Armstrong cleaned houses and did yard work during the mission trip.
“I was really changed during the mission trip because I realized how much I had and that I usually take it for granted,” he said. “Seeing these people and realizing that they didn’t have everything that I do kind of made me look back at myself and learn to appreciate what I had more.”
Tim Core said he was gratified to see the hard work and accomplishments of the teens, and to see them grow spiritually during their time at the work camp.
“It was rewarding to see these young adults put away their cell phones, Internet access, MP3 players, computer games, etc. and put others’ needs before theirs,” he said.
The Sacred Heart volunteers met up again in the evening with the members from their own church as well as the other volunteers from around the country for shared spiritual and recreational activities.
Teen Cece O’Reilly found that a positive attitude and the willingness to have fun with all the new people she met led to a positive experience.
“This mission trip has changed me so much,” she said. “It has led me to have a bigger faith and to see God in the things I do every day and to be so more in touch with what I believe in.”
Paul Armstrong, 19, of Melvindale, painted, gardened, washed windows and worked at a day care center. He said he was glad he could help other teens, which strengthened his faith.
“The mission trip gave me a greater desire for God,” he said, “and it taught me that He did create awesome people.”
Lexie Kaplan, a senior at Dearborn High School, who became a Catholic this spring, said the mission trip strengthened both her self-esteem and her faith.
“You feel so much better about yourself when you take the time to help others,” she said. “This trip as a new Catholic was affirming (to) my faith. It made me glad that I chose to be a Catholic. It changed me by allowing me to prove to myself how capable I can be when others are in need.”
At the end of the week, volunteers were touched by Rockford residents who attended an evening closing program and expressed gratitude for the work the volunteers had done.
Michael Brichta, a junior at Divine Child High School, found it rewarding to see the difference the volunteers had made in one week.
“This trip has helped me see God more in my everyday life,” he said, “and it also has helped me realize the importance of service.”