Armed with paint brushes, screw drivers, weed eaters–and a charitable attitude–about 20 members of the St. Gabriel Youth Group participated in the group’s sixth annual service trip this summer to help disadvantaged families in south-central Missouri.
The group spent a week in late July in Washington County just south of DeSoto volunteering with the Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King, a secular institute of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Composed of five dedicated Catholic women, the Rural Parish Workers not only help provide the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter to rural families, but they spread the Gospel and a sense of hope through prayer and witnessing their faith.
Throughout the week, which saw temperatures climb over 100 degrees, the Youth Group painted the interior and exterior of houses, stained decks and walkways, powerwashed siding, cleared brush, landscaped yards, cleaned up trash, repaired rotting porches and window trim, and installed air conditioning units. Members of the youth group range in age from freshmen in high school through college-age students.
"Watching the members of the youth group helping strangers in need is truly inspiring," said Fran Boyer, who coordinates the group. "I’m not only proud of them for working so hard but for their positive and polite attitudes while helping the residents of the area, one of the most economically distressed regions in the state. They lived the Gospel with their actions and with their spirit of service."
The students slept on the floor of the St. Michael House, a large hall that the Rural Parish Workers use for community and ministry-related activities, including rummage sales, Christmas and Easter parties, and a vacation bible school. There was a small kitchen for cooking evening meals, and they traveled to nearby Washington State Park to use the shower facilities.
During the day, the group would break up into small work teams and fan out into the community to work on pre-arranged projects set up by Boyer, who visited the region several weeks beforehand to meet with residents. They worked from about 8:30 a.m. to late in the afternoon each day, often in blistering heat.
The groups were easy to spot because they wore matching T-shirts with a message on the back that read, in part, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." By their very presence, the youth group were a shining example of Christian ideals to which everyone can aspire.
"Families saw youth in a very positive light as they witnessed them working together to finish a project," said Natalie Villmer, president and directress of the Rural Parish Workers. "They saw committed youth giving up their time, their chance to be with friends and family, to come to our area and give of themselves helping others."
The downturn of the economy has hit the rural areas of Missouri particularly hard, so the region’s residents were blessed to have the youth of St. Gabriel help them, Villmer explained. "Most of the families they helped had no one else to do this kind of work for them or at a price they could afford," she said. "Most of the people they helped were elderly and were very grateful for the young people’s company and the sharing of their skills to repair, build or paint their homes."
Among the youth group members who attended were: Maggie and Lizzie McCarthy, Chris Myrick, Jack Schroder, Katie Kirner, Ethan Reding, Henry Heinze, John Cullen, Claire Meyers, Allie Harbaugh, Kristen Kimble, Malena Phegley, Lizzie Pfitzinger, Maureen Stinehart, Julia Pottinger, Tom Boyer, Henry Goldkamp, Emily Cataldo, Danny Sommer, and Jack and Luke Sperkowski.
Fran Boyer thanked everyone in the parish who donated money and supplies for the trip, including air conditioning units and a number of windows and doors. "We couldn’t have purchased the lumber, paint or other supplies without the donations of our generous parishioners at St. Gabriel," she said. "Our youth and our parish donors combined to respond to the needs of others and to serve them, which is exactly what we’re supposed to do as Christians."