By Celine Klosterman
Natalie Arth said she never realized how much she has to be grateful for.
But helping clear away eight tons of trash and yard waste at Regency Mobile Home Park in Iowa City gave her perspective.
The 15-year-old member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport was among 83 youths who volunteered at Regency during Catholics in Action, an annual service retreat held June 26-28 by the Diocese of Davenport. Some residents of the mobile home community can’t afford to dispose of trash at a landfill, or don’t have the physical ability or transportation to haul old furniture, appliances and tree limbs away, youth leaders said.
“The experience at Regency was a huge eye-opener for the students. They don’t really think about such poverty existing in Iowa,” said Pat Sheil. Youth minister at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, she brought three young volunteers to the retreat.
“As we emptied trailers that had been abandoned, we found photos, toys and other personal things residents had to leave behind. Just to think of what situation would cause people to leave so much of themselves behind…”
CIA included small-group service projects at numerous non-profit organizations in the Iowa City area and Muscatine. Students helped clean buildings, served free lunches to people in need, weeded and mulched, socialized with people with disabilities, and volunteered in other ways. But for many participants, serving as a large group at Regency was the retreat’s highlight.
Robert Stephenson, a Regency resident, said he thanked God for the youths’ help. Having battled cancer, diabetes and heart problems, he said his health prevents him from doing much home maintenance. He’d asked many people to help him pull weeds, tear down and dispose of an old metal shed on his property, and install skirting around his trailer, but the Catholic youths were the first to say yes.
“I about cried,” he said. “I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Interacting with grateful residents at the mobile home park was rewarding, said Nick Mattke, 18, a member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. As they noticed youths helping out, the residents started pitching in, too.
Mattke especially enjoyed helping run a kids’ carnival with games, food, a bouncy house and other activities for the Regency community.
The Catholic youths “were so well received,” said Laura Westemeyer, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Hills who has led parish outreach efforts to Regency. Even the simple act of clearing away people’s clutter can lift their spirits, she added. “You can never estimate when and how you’re going to touch a person’s life.”
Some youths enjoy serving others so much that they return to CIA year after year, noted Leigh Boorn, who helped direct the retreat. Even while pulling weeds last month at the Muscatine Arboretum, no one complained, she said.
“You can always find God in people who need service,” said Ellen VanderBleek, 18, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton who volunteered at the arboretum and other sites. Serving also reminds volunteers that they may someday need help — and gives them confidence that others will be willing to lend a hand.
Being around people who share their gifts with a community is inspiring, Arth said. “Throughout this experience I realized how important service was, because you can’t have faith without works. I recommend everyone attend CIA; it’s truly an amazing experience.”