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Saint Celestine Youth participated in Young Neighbors in Action - June 2012 - Pictures

A Reflection after my Experience at Young Neighbors In Action by Cindy Gallagher

I had no expectations leading into this trip. I had never been on a service trip before, never taken a group of teens away from home, and never been away from my own family for this long! Kim needed someone to lead the teens on their first service trip in Chicago and I simply can’t say no to Kim! After my daughters had a positive experience on their service trip to New Orleans, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to experience service work myself.

This was a life changing experience for me where I saw God in the numerous people I worked with, broke bread with, and shared community with throughout the week. I walked away from this trip with a deeper awareness of how people struggle with acceptance and basic needs. I have grown in faith, love, and strength.

The first thing we heard on this trip was, “If you’re here to make yourself feel better, go home! The focus of this trip was to be the people, children, and organizations that need to see God in someone. Through this humbling experience, I was able to see God in the faces and smiles of the kids we served at St. Angela’s School. These were kids who struggle with basic needs for attention and safety every day. The first thing that comes into their minds about Chicago is guns and violence. Violence is everyday life like going to soccer practice is for the students of Elmwood Park. We were there to help with homework, listen to them, teach them recreational skills, and sometimes just to hold them.

I saw God in the community of volunteers that we lived with for the week! I met other teachers and leaders and will forever have a connection from the week we spent together. We shared stories of fear, love, happiness, and tragedy as we laughed and cried together and supported one another through a difficult week. Our fifteen hour days were filled with service work, daily group and individual reflection, community building, and prayer. We also had group jobs every day at St. Gregory’s School where we lived for the week.

 

I saw the face of God in the Native Americans we broke bread with at the cultural center. Their stories of struggle, pain, and pride touched us all! They shared stories of decades of prejudice and struggles with acceptance.

God was there in a former student I met from another group. God was in the many teens who wanted to help out in any way they could. I saw the face of God in Taylor, Faith, and Emily who worked so hard and were there for each other. God was in Kim when she came to share the day with us.

At the end of the journey we were asked to think about the question; “What is God calling me to do?” The answer to this question, for me, was to be aware of God in all people, especially the “least of these”. For me, this trip was a wake-up call of what it truly means to be a person of faith. It is more than church on Sundays, more than fellowship with other believers, more than a belief in the sanctity of life. It is simply a call to serve not only one another, but a call to serve the least of our brothers and sisters with an awareness and sensitivity to those who are different. It is a call to respect the life and dignity of all of us regardless of circumstances.

 

Every day on our trip, a group was asked to bring bottles of holy water to each work site. This holy water was poured out by each member of the 80+ people who were there. It was shared at our daily prayer services and a bottle was given to each group on the last day. We were asked to share this water with our home parish. When we returned, Taylor, Faith, Emily and I prayed around our baptismal font in the back of church and each said a prayer as each of us poured part of the water in the font. This water, symbolizing the renewal of our baptismal promises to share God's love, has been shared with all of you! May this water renew all our baptismal promises and remind us all of our call as people of faith!

Prayerfully,
Cindy Gallagher

 

Reflection after Young Neighbor’s in Action
by Faith Bieschke

Blessing: “Something promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity; a boon; the bestowal of a divine gift or favor; a happy event or state of affairs”. Whatever your definition may be, Young Neighbors in Action was the definition of a blessing to me. I believe this trip coming my way was truly fate; an act of God saying that this was where I should be going. I had spent months and months planning to go away on a service trip with my school for the summer and my heart was set on going. It turned out there was a conflict with the dates of the trip, it was one of the hardest decisions I was faced with but in the end I had decided I wouldn’t be able to go. It was a heartbreaking decision, but I hoped it would all work itself out. That very day that I had decided not to go, my mom got a phone call from Kim McMillan saying that she had just been able to schedule a service trip that she thought I would be interested in; it was fate. When my mom told me it was some of the best news I had gotten and I immediately jumped in and said yes! This marked the beginning of the journey that would bring me memories to last a lifetime and teach me lessons I couldn’t learn anywhere else.

 

At first, when I was told we would be at a summer camp for kids in grammar school I was a little disappointed. I was thinking we would be doing things a little closer to labor and was a bit iffy on the whole idea of dealing with kids from different neighborhoods and possibly having a hard time with them. I tried not to think of this as much as possible and focus on the positive effect I will hopefully have on the kids. The first day came and we were doing manual labor trying to clean up and unpack the new area St. Angela would be using as the camp. This was good for me because it was a tad closer to the work I had thought we would be doing, but I was starting to get a bit nervous hearing about all the kids that would be coming in the very next day. When the first day came to a close I was exhausted and couldn’t help the thoughts of what tomorrow would bring. I was getting more and more anxious, and more and more tired as the night went on since not only would we be with kids who are, no doubt, riled-up from the excitement of the first day of camp, but also because I knew I would not sleep a wink that night – no matter how tired I was.

 
 

The next day we were assigned to our classes and, lucky for me, I was with the kindergarteners who would all be only five or six years old. I was surprisingly excited, no longer anxious or nervous, but excited! I wanted to meet my new kids who would within the next three days become my friends. We were brought down to the lunch room in which we spotted our little kids filing through the hectic area looking more innocent and adorable than I thought possible. As soon as we were introduced to these little angels I fell in love. They were all so absorbed in the happiness of being new kindergarteners and being at camp. I cannot count the number of hand drawn pictures I was shown almost instantly or the number of proud faces the owners of the pictures held. I was offered friendship by every heart there and I accepted with mine fully!

Within the next three days I became completely attached to these little kids and thought of each of them as part of our own family. I got to know each of them individually and learn their funny quirks and different personalities. At first it was difficult to grasp the fact that they were from such different family and local situations than the way I grew up; I found myself forgetting that quite often. I would look at them and think to myself, ‘these are just sweet innocent children, who want to play, have fun, and be loved,’ but some things they would say would shake me from that reverie and I would remember how different their family lives are. It really helped me to understand some of the acting out that occurred and some of the desperate attempts to grab someone’s attention. It was their way of asking for the love and care that they may not be given enough of at home. So I did all I could to play with them as much as possible and show as much love and care as I could in the short amount of time I was able to spend with them.

 

On about the second day with the kids I had my “Aha” moment, and realization hit me. I was so proud of the work that I was doing with these kids that I enjoyed my time with them even more, I think, than I would have doing the labor-based work I wanted to do at first. It was a beautiful thing to behold, making the personal connections with people, living beings that can grow in the love that I share with them, and spread it to others who need it just as desperately as they do. This realization also had a more personal effect on me because of where I was raised. I grew up going to a summer camp and daycare much like the one being held at St. Angela. I went to a predominantly African-American daycare and they took me in as if I was one of their own children. I still to this day call the woman who took care of me my “Tee tee” and still think of her family as my own. Now I could be the older one caring for the younger children, in the same type of setting that I was in, with the love I was given as a kid. It was amazing to finally appreciate the fact that I was giving back, and that everything was coming full cycle.

 

When the week came to a close and it was time to say goodbye to these tiny, beautiful, angels I had been so blessed to meet, I couldn’t do it. I was so upset by the fact that I would be leaving, and more upset by the fact that I may not see them again, that I couldn’t bear to tell them I would not be returning. I hugged each and every one of them goodbye, and did my best to hold in the tears that were threatening to make an appearance, and simply told them that it was time for me to go home. This moment was truly heartbreaking, but I knew that as long as I had that time with them and have the memories I which could think about whenever I wanted and I would be OK. So I collected myself and gave them a smile and a wave and looked over their beautiful faces once more, hoping that the time I spent with them helped them in some way – no matter how small.

Faith Bieschke

 

Reflection after Young Neighbor’s in Action by Emily Plucinski

Service week was a wonderful experience that taught me many things. Through this experience there was one lesson that stuck out the most, though. Almost every day the adults would say that the little things matter a lot to these people. See, throughout the trip I felt like I wasn’t really doing much. I mean the first day at the site we cut tissue paper, made example art projects for the kids at St. Angela’s School, and cleaned a classroom. When you really think about it St. Joseph’s Service’s probably wouldn’t have been ready for the kids to come the next day if we hadn’t done that. It would have been too much work for just a few people. Tuesday through Thursday we ended up working with the kids, and Taylor and I had the fifth grade. All we really did was talk to them, do homework with them, and in general become their friends. It really didn’t feel like I was doing anything except having fun! Later in the week my small group leader, Sarah, taught me why what I was doing was so important. She had been working with the pre-three kids, and the teacher told her that earlier in the school years one of her students had been stabbed to death by his father. I knew that the neighborhood was bad, but this was still I surprise to me. These kids have to worry about their safety so often, and a group of three year olds had to be told that their friend would never play with them again because he’s dead. That’s a horrible thing for such a young child to experience. Those kids probably never feel safe, and that made me realize that the little things we were doing gave them a role model. For them we became someone they could look up to, and we showed them that somewhere they could be safe. I hope to always be a friend and role model to my fifth graders at St. Angela’s.

Reflection after Young Neighbor’s in Action by Taylor French

If I was asked where my favorite place to go this summer was, I would have to say our service trip with Young Neighbors in Action at St. Joseph Day camp. This was the most amazing time I have ever had because while I was there I did not think of myself as helping doing a lot of physical labor but I thought of myself as making friends with kids who are absolutely wonderful. When I first arrived I what I thought was going to happen at a typical service week happened. We moved boxes because the St. Josephs group was moving to a newer location. Never did I think that I would be making so many new friends while having fun making simple art projects. But I did!

On the second day, we greeted our group of kids, Emily and I had fifth grade, and I will admit I was very nervous. Yet, once the week went on I found it was so very easy to connect with the kids that I worked with because they just regular innocent kids. They were nice and special kids that were amazing in every way possible. We did homework with them, played basketball, and just basically got to know them. When it got down to the end of the trip I regretted the last day. This was because I realized that this was the last day I got to spend time with them. When Emily and I walked to our classes for the last time we were both trying hard to fight the tears that were welling up in our eyes. It was really hard to leave them because I would miss having the fond memories of them.

After saying goodbye to my new fifth grade friends, I left and I wanted to run back to them and say that I'll stay longer if they wanted, but I wouldn't be able to keep that promise. Once our group got back on the bus that was when I lost it. I broke down and sobbed my eyes out because I could not believe that I would miss those kids that much. That experience got me to thanking God for all the opportunities that I have been blessed with my entire life. I just hoped that God would keep all those kids safe and then we went on our way.

All in all, this trip was great. Wait that is an understatement, to say it was a blessing is also an understatement. There is no word in the dictionary that could have described how this trip made me feel. I am just grateful that I could have this opportunity to meet all those wonderful kids, because they are really something special. They will always have a special place in my heart so that I am crying just remembering them and their smiling faces everytime Emily and I walked through those doors. I can't thank God enough!!!