Sharing the Good News by stepping out to serve


First-time initiative gets good reviews

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, participating youths and adults recorded 9,657 hours of volunteer service for the Diocese of Davenport’s Step Out to Serve initiative. Nine parishes participated in a total of 36 different service projects that involved 305 youths and 168 adults, cumulatively.

The initiative tapped into volunteering that youths in middle school through high school and their adult chaperones were doing over the summer. Keeping track of the volunteer hours provided an opportunity to emphasize the importance and value of service as members of a diocesan church.

Youths tie the ends of a blanket during an event last month at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville to celebrate the successful completion of Step Out to Serve, a diocesan initiative focused on volunteerism from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

“It’s about encouraging people to step out and serve, to help people to understand that this is a way of life for disciples of Jesus,” said Don Boucher, director of the diocesan Faith Formation Office. “We don’t do service as a requirement. We do this because this is what Jesus did.”

Youth Minister Julia Jones of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove took her 8-year-old son, Sebastian, along with teens and chaperones from the parish to volunteer at St. Vincent Mission in David, Ky.

“This was the second year I took him,” Jones said. “He ended up with about 12 hours (of service) by the end of the week. He didn’t do all the hard labor that the teens did. He went and helped out in the food pantry and carried boxes of food to people’s cars. He really enjoyed that. Someone gave him a tip and he donated it right back to St. Vincent Mission.”

Making numbers count

Jones said Step Out to Serve demonstrated the power of collaboration. “It’s kind of cool when you throw everything into the pot and look at what you got. We had a small part in that.”

Youth ministers developed Step Out to Serve as an alternative to Catholics in Action (CIA), a diocesan summer service project that had run out of steam. The youth ministers all agreed that service is a big part of discipleship, said Michelle Montgomery, youth minister for St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.

All of them were planning to do separate service projects anyway, so she suggested tallying the number of hours served and submitting those figures to the diocese. Not everyone was onboard initially but worked through concerns and details.

Montgomery said she emailed her youth ministry students — 275 in total — to ask about service projects they had planned. “I didn’t realize they were doing a lot of stuff on their own,” she said. Among the projects: a mission trip to St. Vincent Mission that she was leading, and volunteer work at the Catholic Worker house, a food pantry, 4H and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

One of the youths, Amber Rose, volunteered 229 hours of service from Memorial Day to Labor Day. “That just blew my mind,” Montgomery said. Amber volunteered on the St. Vincent Mission trip, served as a volunteer counselor in training at the Howard H. Cherry Scout Reservation and also volunteered with her BSA troop doing multiple projects.

“I chose to participate in Step Out to Serve because I like to help others and give back to the community,” Amber said. “When I heard about the program I knew that I could contribute with many hours so I didn’t hesitate to help. Michelle and St. Thomas More have provided me with a lot of opportunities to grow in my faith and as a person so I wanted to do whatever I could to give back.”

Altogether, St. Thomas More Parish youths and their adult chaperones contributed 3,000 hours of service. “That’s not too bad out of a total of more than 9,000 hours of service” across the diocese, Montgomery said.

A culture of service

She believes students are inspired, in part, by seeing their parents volunteer. Making service enjoyable helps, too. “Service is fun, doing it with your friends, helping someone in need … it’s the satisfaction of knowing that even the small things you do can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Tommy Fallon, youth minister at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, said in some respects this past summer was “summer as usual, but we recorded the (volunteer) hours. Vacation Bible School, for example, attracts a large number of high school and junior high school students to help teach in the classes, lead games and do other activities with the younger children throughout the week.”

Also, he takes high school students to West Virginia each summer to volunteer for Manus Christi (Hands of Christ), doing housework and home repair. Ten teenagers made the trip this past June.

“Between Vacation Bible School and the mission trip, Step Out to Serve was kind of eye-opening to me when we calculated the number of youths and the number of hours they put in between those two things alone.” He knows other youths performed service hours but didn’t keep track of what they did.

Calculating the hours served and reporting on that can give parishes hope, Fallon said. “I would like to see more parishes participate. All of them have service opportunities going on. It would be neat to see, if every parish did that, how much is being done in our diocese alone.”

Fallon also thinks the Faith Formation Office could offer opportunities for parishes to record service project hours year-round. “We’re all doing service things throughout the year in many ways and forms.”

Students from Our Lady of Our Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf helped with Vacation Bible School, served a meal for Churches United of the Quad City Area and helped with landscaping at the Women’s Choice Center in Bettendorf, said Brett Adams, the parish’s youth minister.

As a newer youth minister, he said he is looking to build on other opportunities throughout the year, not just summer. “We need to be aware about serving all year and be a culture of service.”

Celebrating Step Out to Serve

Several events were held to celebrate the conclusion of Step Out to Serve, an initiative to showcase the volunteer service that youths and adults from the Diocese of Davenport performed from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Sister Kathleen Weigand, OSB, public relations/mission speaker for St. Vincent Mission in David, Ky., gave presentations at parishes that sent volunteers to the mission and at one parish that hopes to do so in the future. Erin Bottomlee, the mission’s executive director, participated in some of the presentations.

Sr. Weigand spoke at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa and St. Ambrose University in Davenport and at diocesan headquarters in Davenport.

She thanked all who have volunteered at St. Vincent Mission and emphasized the importance of stepping out to serve as part of Catholic social teaching, which shows the connection between care for each other and care for the earth.

Caring for creation, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and visiting prisoners, for example, requires stepping out to serve and shows how “we’re all connected,” Sr. Weigand said.

Don Boucher, director of the Diocese of Davenport’s Faith Formation Office, requested Sr. Weigand’s presence. “We wanted somebody who could help us wrap up this Step Out to Serve initiative and really speak to the lived experience of social justice.”

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