Youths, adults help with tornado recovery in Kentucky

Youths from Sacred Heart Parish in Newton construct a pole barn earlier this month for a couple near Mayfield, Ky., who lost their home and barn to an EF4 tornado.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Ten youths and six adults from Sacred Heart Parish in Newton traveled to Paducah, Kentucky, earlier this month to help residents recover from an EF4 tornado that hit the region in December.

Each day of the weeklong Catholic Mission Trips, Inc. service opportunity began with Mass at a local parish and ended with an evening program. Participants also had the opportunity to participate in eucharistic adoration and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

On the first day, the Newton group went to the fairgrounds in Mayfield, a city hit hard by the tornado, and sorted clothes and school supplies. The next day, the group began helping residents of Benton. They helped an elderly couple who had lost their home in the tornado by painting the wrap-around porch and railing of their new residence. Later, they constructed the framing to a pole barn for a couple who lost their home and barn. “The new pole barn will be used to house the several horses they own,” said Luke Gregory, the parish’s director of RCIA, Lifelong Faith Formation and Senior High Youth Ministry.


Gregory said he was encouraged to see the youths take ownership in their work. “They did a fantastic job painting and their dedication to putting up the pole barn was inspiring. (It) was a new experience for many of our youth, yet they did not shy away from the challenge. Each person found a job they could do and stuck with it, whether that was leveling the posts, screwing boards together or filling up buckets with gravel to bring to the next hole that needed to be topped off after the concrete was poured in and around the posts.”

An EF4 tornado hit a portion of Kentucky in December 2021.

The Kentucky heat was strong, Gregory said, but the group asked to stay longer than the allotted shift to finish the work they started. The youths had an opportunity to talk with some of the people they were helping. “It was a joy to see them talking with (locals) and getting to know their stories,” Gregory said.

The youths could not have their cell phones handy during the mission, which was difficult at first. Gregory observed, “It was amazing seeing each of them living in the moment and appreciating the people around them, being engaged in the task at hand. It was a blessing to hear from the youths in our small groups how much they actually enjoyed not having the distraction of their phones throughout the week.”

Gregory said the parish has a long history of summer missions for youths. “The senior high youth group and adult parishioners have been doing mission trips that we call ‘Faith Journey’ for over 30 years,” Gregory said. This was the first trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first through Catholic Mission Trips, Inc., an organization that Gregory’s friend Thomas Leah of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa recommended. Leah, the parish’s director of Religious Education, also took a group of youths to Kentucky this summer.

To offset costs for the mission, the Newton parish held fundraisers, including a scrap steel metal drive, a silent basket auction and a pancake breakfast hosted by the Knights of Columbus. Youths also baked cinnamon rolls and sold them before and after Masses.

Riley Maple, 16, said he chose to go on the mission “to spend time with my friends and help the people affected by the severe tornado.” During the mission, he “grew closer to God by helping others, getting to know a lot of new people, going to church every day and going to confession.”

Anselm Frietsch, 17, said he appreciated the opportunity to help rebuild parts of Kentucky. “I like building and helping people out.” Completing the pole barn was a highlight. Since the trip, he has been wearing a miraculous medal and saying a morning offering.

Meggan Machin accompanied her 15-year-old daughter Ella on the mission trip and served as a chaperone. “I wanted to spend quality time with my daughter and be able to love and serve others with her,” Meggan said. “This trip humbled me for sure. It opened my eyes to all that God has blessed me with and that I need to serve others with my blessings!” Ella appreciated the opportunity to explore God’s plan for her life. The trip “helped me recognize that nothing in the world matters if you have God.”

Gregory said, “I am proud of each one of our kids who participated in this great mission.”

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