By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
MUSCATINE — Two college students from Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish will head to West Virginia at the end of the month to help teenagers encounter Christ and serve residents in an impoverished area of the country.
Longtime friends Meghan Custis and Ragan Carey will serve as summer programming staff for Manus Christi and Camp Bosco, two major summer ministries for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
The young women, coincidentally, had been discerning a call to serve as staff. “It’s nice we’re both going up there together,” said Ragan, a student at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. “We’re really excited.”
Meghan is currently studying English and public relations at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Meghan and Ragan have positive memories of participating in Manus Christi with other teens from the parish in 2016. Each year Tommy Fallon, the parish’s director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, takes a group. “We pack a van or two with our luggage and make the trek to Appalachia for an amazing week of service and formation about Catholic Social Teaching,” he said.
Manus Christi offers groups of teenagers the opportunity to participate in home repair projects for local people in need. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) 2010-2014 Poverty Rate report showed poverty rates in the region to be higher than the state and national averages. The unemployment rate is similar to the national average but per capita income is about 20 percent lower.
Meghan recalls the 2016 Muscatine group building roofs, finishing stairs and painting houses. Each person receiving help shared their story. She described it as an eye-opening experience, seeing poverty up close and meeting people who are struggling financially.
“My family and I lived in Kentucky for a few years when I was a kid. I knew that part of the country was stereotyped as being impoverished; I knew they were there,” she said. By getting to know some of the residents, she realized that “they aren’t different (than me) — it’s just the situation they’re in.”
Ragan, who hopes to become an elementary school teacher after graduation, recalls the way the children they served had fun with simple toys and sometimes no toys at all. She felt endeared to them and wanted an opportunity to go back and help.
As members of the summer programming staff, Meghan and Ragan will work to provide a fun and engaging experience of Christian community for participants of Camp Bosco and Manus Christi through relational ministry, according to the ministries’ website. During Manus Christi, staff work with the youths and chaperones facilitating their mission experience and helping them pray, be community, live out works of Christian charity and learn about Catholic social thought. During Camp Bosco, staff spend 22 hours a day with third-through-12th-grade youths, looking after their needs — physical, emotional and spiritual — and lead their groups in activities ranging from archery and crafts to hygiene and chores. The staff also take their campers on overnight camping trips.
During both programs, summer programming staff minister in formal and informal ways. The young women will participate in a week of training before they officially begin their ministry.
Fallon said Meghan and Ragan are the first of his youths to participate as staff members and he’s looking forward to working with them when the Muscatine high school group arrives June 23.
Meghan said she looks forward helping youths grow closer to God while serving others. “In five days you can have such an impact.”