Helping others takes priority for youths on Kentucky service trip

Sarah Nylin of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove places facia board on the side of a house in Kentucky. She and eight teens from the parish participated in a mission trip last month in David, Ky.

By Laura Hebbeln

Summer is usually considered a season for relaxation. But from June 20-26, eight teenagers from the Quad-City area strayed away from the ordinary summer routine. They made the decision to sacrifice their time to do something for people in need.

Jon Zrostlik, Gary Simatovich, Sarah Nylin, Megan Moellenbeck, Amy Meyer, Allyssa Ramos, Rachel Hebbeln, and myself, along with two adults, Julia Jones and Mike Moellenbeck, traveled to David, Ky., for a mission trip sponsored by St. Ann Church in Long Grove.

I don’t know what inspired everyone else to go on the trip, but I know my interest was initially sparked by a selfish motive. I thought it would look good on my college resume. My selfish reason for going on the trip changed during the week. I learned that impressing others isn’t as important as loving others.

I don’t think any of us knew what we were in for. All we knew was that we would be fixing a house and that it would be hot in Kentucky. We were required to bring only a hammer and a tape measure. Hammering nails and taking measurements didn’t sound too difficult. 


The ride to Kentucky was relaxed and fun. It was a good time to get to know new people and catch up with old friends. We didn’t talk much about the week that was ahead of us; we were too absorbed in our iPods, books, cell phones and which restaurant we were going to stop at for lunch. But that night when we made it to the volunteer house where we would stay, our attitudes became more serious.

It was a nice house, but the houses around it weren’t. Everything was run-down and appeared unlivable. Many people were sitting out on their porches, which dismissed our thoughts that no one could possibly live in the houses. The paint on the houses was old and chipped and the windows were dirty. The yards were unkempt, and the pools were filled with algae.

Our first day was difficult. I learned that I would be doing much more than hammering nails. By the end of the week, I was using a table saw. We met the woman whose house we would be working on: Eula Fay Shepherd. We also befriended “Scruffles,” a stray dog, who wandered around Eula’s house.

On the first day, we learned that we would be working on Eula Fay’s kitchen and areas on the outside of the house. The first day was filled with painting, hammering, drilling and sawing. Afterward, I was exhausted and dehydrated, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Many wasps hovered around Eula’s house, which we were constantly spraying throughout the week. Megan was stung on the first day, but luckily she wasn’t allergic. The first day made us realize our work wasn’t going to be easy.

Although Allyssa went to the ER due to some infected bug bites, the second day seemed better because we knew what was going on and what we were supposed to do. We were more comfortable with the work, but that didn’t make the heat any more comfortable. Most of the days we worked  the heat index exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But we persevered, and by the end of the week, we finished Eula’s kitchen.

In the middle of the week, after a long day of work, the group went to a potluck to meet two other mission teams. It was obvious we were the odd ones out. The other groups were much larger than ours and looked a lot older. Nobody came over and said hello to us. We were stared at as we looked for empty seats. It was awkward and uncomfortable, and I would have much rather been at the volunteer house eating dinner with the team and playing a game.

A man finally came over, sat down, and introduced himself. I don’t remember his name, or where he was from, but I do remember him trying to impress our team by telling us how experienced and accomplished his team was. He boasted about all the work they had done, and bragged about how intelligent his team was and how naturally the work came to them. 

While he was talking, I kept thinking about our small, humble team that came to Kentucky with basically no knowledge or experience with the work we were going to do. All we came with was a desire to help others. This is when I learned that impressing others isn’t important; it is more important to love others with all your heart, and to help others to the best of your abilities.

At the end of the week, our whole team received matching T-shirts that read: “People Helping People” on the back. I believe that is just what we accomplished, and I also learned that helping others, not ourselves, should take top priority in our lives.

(Hebbeln is home-schooled and will attend Scott Community College for her senior year of high school this fall.)

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