By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Youths and adult volunteers from several parishes teamed up last month to work on a variety of home repair and landscaping projects for tenants of Regency Mobile Home Community in Iowa City.
“These people are struggling economically, even more so with the pandemic conditions,” said Michelle Montgomery, youth minister for St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. During the weeklong mission, “one father left for work only to be sent home.”
Many Catholics in the area are familiar with the Regency residents, having helped families in need at Regency with home repairs and landscaping several years ago through the former Catholics in Action program. Area Catholics have also participated in numerous Christmas parties for Regency residents.
The volunteer group included six youths from St. Patrick Parish in Melrose and six youths from the Coralville parish. Four Knights of Columbus from the Coralville parish participated, as did two adult volunteers from St. Joseph Parish in Hills and Deacon Ed and
Jane Kamerick from Melrose. Deacon David Montgomery, diocesan chief of staff and Michelle Montgomery’s husband, also participated. Volunteer Anna Verry, 17, a member of the Coralville parish, has volunteered in her parish’s Kentucky service trip in the past and was grateful to help families at Regency “especially after not being able to help as many people during the pandemic.”
The group caught up with Jordan, now in his teens. Catholics in Action volunteers built a wheelchair ramp for him in 2014. Since then, he has upgraded to a larger wheelchair that is incompatible with the original ramp design. This year’s volunteers repaired parts of the ramp that had deteriorated and expanded the deck for his ability to access it without assistance. Volunteers also expanded an interior door to accommodate his wheelchair and repaired an exterior door.
Jordan’s joy when he tried out the new accommodations touched Verry. “You could see happiness radiate from his face as well as his mom’s and younger brother’s. … I saw how such a small change made a major impact in this family’s life. The struggle of having a ramp that was not compatible with his new wheelchair was definitely a burden to their daily life, and having it fixed was a light to them and to me.”
Other tenants benefited from the volunteers’ work. The Knights of Columbus repaired the leaking roof of another trailer and volunteers removed unwanted material from a third trailer and improved their yard with new plants. One of the tenants taught the volunteers about peppers and the difference between plants and weeds. “I was learning from the people I was helping,” Verry said. “That moment sticks out to me.”
Michelle Montgomery said the group worked “very well together” in difficult conditions; temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit on several occasions. “The families were very grateful for the work done,” she said. “One mother cried while thanking us for helping to make their lives easier and safer.”
Verry said the week at Regency was transformative. “Not only did I learn about construction and the importance of teamwork, but I also learned what it means to be a follower of Christ and how to be like Christ to others.”
St. Thomas More parishioner Matt Staber, 16, said many hands made the work feel light. He relished the opportunity to help families in need. “The family that we were helping was super thankful and happy.”
Verry shared that sentiment. “I will forever be thankful for the opportunity I was given to be able to help families in my community,” she said. “As I reflect back on the week, I am reminded of how blessed I am with the things I have. I will never fully understand the challenges that some people face in my community, but this service project opened my eyes to a handful of families and their challenges, and I am truly thankful for that.”