By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
DEARBORN – Local volunteers didn’t let the heat and humidity in Charleston, S.C., stop them from helping people in a city that has experienced more than its share of troubles recently.
With daily temperatures at 95 degrees, and with the humidity creating a heat index of 110 degrees, 33 area teen and adult volunteers joined others from across the country July 18 to 25 in Charleston through Catholic Heart Work Camps.
CHWC brings together teens, college students and adult volunteers to serve the neglected and marginalized in society, witnessing their Christian faith through social service.
This spring and summer more than 13,000 teens and adults volunteered in week-long camps in 50 U.S. cities, and in St. Lucia, Grenada and Belize. They restored homes, fed the hungry, worked with underprivileged children, helped people with disabilities, and partnered with social agencies in need of volunteer help.
“It was quite a warm week in Charleston,” said Julie Wieleba-Milkie, director of faith formation and coordinator of youth and young adult ministry at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Dearborn.
She said this is the 10th year Sacred Heart has spearheaded a CHWC mission trip, and this year’s volunteers included teens and adults from Divine Child and St. Kateri in Dearborn, St. Sebastian in Dearborn Heights, St. Alfred in Taylor, and St. Frances Cabrini in Allen Park.
They helped individuals and agencies by building wheelchair ramps, cleaning yards, painting schools, and helping non-profit social service agencies, including Habitat for Humanity, the Lowcountry Food Bank, and the Livestock and Equine Awareness Rescue Network.
The group also went to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, where a gunman killed nine people June 17. Emanuel AME, one of the oldest black churches in the United States, has a long history of involvement in the civil rights movement.
“It was very important that we went there,” Wieleba-Milkie said. “Knowing that it is a historical church to begin with, it was important for us to pray there, to pray for all the people, to pray for healing.”
Seeing people from diverse backgrounds visiting Emanuel AME in a show of support left an impression upon John Lakatos, 24, of Dearborn, who has chaperoned four work camps.
This summer, as he helped build a wheelchair ramp at an amputee’s house, he said he liked seeing the teen participants grow in their faith.
“The teamwork and camaraderie that comes from the trips is the main reason I keep coming back,” Lakatos said. “I feel a lot closer to (my) faith, plus I get the reward of seeing a job well done.”
Lauren Williams, 14, of Taylor, a first-time work camp participant, spent two days clearing overgrowth from a senior’s yard, and two days painting inside a school.
“It made me feel so good to be working for other people instead of just doing things for myself, and making the lives for those people easier,” Williams said.
Catherine “Cat” Skidmore, 15, of Dearborn, a second-time participant, also painted inside a school.
She said it was interesting working with volunteers from different parts of the country, and she liked being in a supportive environment where she could be herself.
“The experience is life-changing,” Skidmore said. “You get closer to God, and you get to make relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Emerson Merem, 16, of Canton Township, said working at the Lowcountry Food Bank made her appreciate the abundance in her own life.
The food bank, a clearing house for donated food items, inspects and distributes surplus food from manufacturers, stores, farmers, and other sources, and redistributes it to a network of hunger-relief agencies.
“We are so blessed with what our parents give us, and all these things we have in our life,” Merem said. “Being able to give back is such a good feeling. Helping people out is always a great feeling.”
She said that while it might seem tempting just to stay home and hang out with friends, the mission trip experience appeals to teen participants in a way that has them returning for more.
“There is just something about mission trip that makes everyone have the best time,” Merem said. “So many people come back from it and say, ‘Wow. I want to do this again.’ Even though it might not seem like the most fun thing to do at times, when you are actually there it is one of the best feelings that you can ever receive.”
Anne Holmes, 15, of Dearborn, who has been on three mission trips, helped construct concrete walkways at the Livestock and Equine Awareness Rescue Network, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Meggett, S.C.
She said after volunteering at the work camp, she felt more grateful for what she has at home.
Alyssa Witzleben, 17, of Dearborn, helped organize and sort building materials at a Habitat for Humanity warehouse.
“It was a lot of heavy lifting, but it was good teamwork, and helped us build character,” Witzleben said. “We got to know each other well through hard and strenuous work.”
She said work camp lets you do the work of God with like-minded teens.
“Catholic faith is still strong and it is still in the hearts of all these young people,” Witzleben said. “It is just really important to get out there and do work. I would go back in a heartbeat.”
Participating in a week-long work camp can be life-changing for teens and young adults, Wieleba-Milkie said.
“They are not only having fun and meeting new people, but are actually helping at the same time,” she said. “When they do that, and are serving people they don’t know, serving a community they don’t know, they can grow from it.”
Wieleba-Milkie said spending a week for the past 10 summers roughing it with teens and young adults on mission trips is “a chance to be able to take your faith to the next level. To be able to put into action what Jesus (said), what you hear in the Gospels all the time, and to actually be able to do it.”