By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Twenty-six teens and six adults from three local parishes spent July 7 to 16 in Fremont, Neb., fixing elderly people’s homes and working at a disabled children’s day care center.
The volunteers, from Dearborn Sacred Heart, Allen Park Cabrini and Dearborn Heights St. Mel Roman Catholic churches each invested at least 24 hours painting and repairing houses for elderly people, or working with disabled children in a day care center in the low-income suburb of Omaha.
The work camps, sponsored by Catholic HEART Workcamp of Goldenrod, Fla., began in 1993, founded by youth ministers Steve and Lisa Walker. They sought to provide parish youth groups, teens and adult leaders with weeklong service opportunities throughout the United States helping low-income people, the elderly and the disabled. CHWC works with local and national social agencies to provide a work camp experience.
CHWC provides staff at each work camp mission trip location and sponsors evening spiritual programs, Catholic-based activities and masses. For more information, call 407-678-0073 or go to www.heartworkcamp.com.
Julie Wieleba-Milkie, director of faith formation and youth ministry at Sacred Heart, who has led eight annual mission trips since 2005, said this is the first year they have gone to the western United States. She said this year’s group included a mixture of first time and repeat participants.
She said each mission trip is unique and participants never know exactly what type of work they will be doing.
“Each trip is different,” Wieleba-Milkie said. “I was working in a child care facility for children with special needs. Others were working with homes of the elderly, with outside and inside painting and stuff like that.”
She said it is encouraging to see by the end of the week how much hesitant first-time mission trip participants gain from the experience.
“It’s always an experience when you see new people (who) don’t always know what to expect, and seeing how much they get out of it and seeing what it has meant to them,” Wieleba-Milkie said. “It nourishes me when I can see what a difference it has made in somebody else’s life.”
Next year Wieleba-Milkie said she hopes to take a group to a location closer to
home — perhaps to Pennsylvania or Illinois — which would require less participant fundraising to cover expenses.
Interested participants, chaperones and financial donors may contact her at Sacred Heart at 313-565-1020 or by email at [email protected]
John Struman, 18, of Dearborn, a Sacred Heart parishioner and a sophomore at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a veteran of five mission trips, said this trip was his favorite so far, and he had a chance to get to know the elderly couple whose home and yard he helped repair.
“They were the sweetest people I met,” Struman said. “They were an older couple who couldn’t accomplish the work that we did – at least not anytime soon. It would have taken months or years (for them) to do what we did in four days. They were tickled. Anything we could do for them was definitely something for them.”
Struman said he enjoyed the evening spiritual programs provided by CHWC.
“Those are always very charged,” Struman said. “Those are always very spiritual, always very jam-packed. Every year I come back brand new, completely brand new.”
Kristen Trudell, 19, of Dearborn, and a parishioner of St. Mel’s in Dearborn Heights, also helped an elderly couple with home repairs, specifically building two decks with other volunteers.
A first-time mission trip participant, she said her experience was “really cool.”
“I have a faith but I’m not super into it,” Trudell said. “But I decided to go with it with an open mind. It was really cool. I mean, we had a lot of church, which was overwhelming at first, but then the more that you connected with it, the easier it was to sit there and listen instead of it being a drag.”
She said she gets a “really big kick” out of volunteering, and had done a lot of volunteer work in past before going on the mission trip.
“It was really cool to go out in different parts of America to volunteer and see where they are coming from,” Trudell said. “Even though they may not have needed it as much as someone else, they were more than deserving. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Abigail Burke, 14, of Dearborn and a freshman at Allen Park Cabrini High School, was a first-time mission trip participant who said the experience was a lot of fun.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Burke said. “So when we were heading out to Nebraska I didn’t know what it was going to be like. When we got there, I was surprised (by) the facility and by the people. It was the highlight of my summer.”
Burke said she definitely wants to go on a mission trip next summer.
Phil Dean, 24, of Taylor, a Sacred Heart parishioner and a UM-D graduate, went on the trip as a chaperone. He said he volunteered with service groups on his spring break while in college, but found CHWC to be a much more spiritual experience.
He worked with a group that did house repairs for a legally blind elderly man whose wife had just had knee replacement surgery.
“They were just so welcoming to us and generous,” Dean said. “They made us lunch every day. They were really, really thankful for all the work that we did throughout the week.”
He said it was inspiring to see other volunteers participating in the services and having deep conversation with each other.
“It’s an awesome experience,” Dean said. “The week flies by really fast, and it’s really worthwhile to devote a week to that.”
Joana Aldrich, 18, of Dearborn and a freshman at Henry Ford Community College, said she was part of a group that painted the house of a paralyzed woman, which she said took some of the burden off her caretakers.
A three-time mission trip participant, Aldrich said the experience is something that will bring people out of their comfort zone.
“I was originally a really shy person,” Aldrich said. “Now I can actually talk to people without being shy and I can be really outgoing. It’s just heart-warming to see people come out of their shell.”
Struman said he would encourage teens considering attending a week-long mission trip to step outside of their comfort zone and attend even if they don’t have close friends going on the trip.
“You’re going to make friends on this trip,” Struman said. “You’re going to have a life-changing experience, and it’s not all just work. I mean, you’re with people your age who think the same way you do. I made friends this year.”
Trudell said she would encourage other teens to go on a mission trip.
“If you go with an open mind it will be a wonderful experience,” Trudell said. “It all comes down to you.”
Celeste Holmes, 17, of Dearborn and a senior at Edsel Ford High School, enjoyed her second mission trip, especially getting to know the spiritual side of her friends while they painted an elderly woman’s home. She said she would encourage other teens to attend a work camp experience.
“I’d say just do it,” Holmes said. “You’re not going to lose anything, and there’s really a lot to gain there, whether you are doing it to have some service (hours) or to meet people, there’s just so many fun things.”