Local teens travel to put faith in action

Photo courtesy of Praying and Helping Youth of Sacred Heart
Dearborn resident Celeste Holmes (left), 16, a junior at Edsel Ford High School, traveled to Greensboro, N.C., to volunteer with Catholic Heart Work Camps. Holmes did grounds maintenance and worked with children riding horses at Kopper Top Life Learning Center, a non-profit therapeutic facility in Liberty, N.C. Holmes said she worked with CHWC volunteers from Tennessee, Georgia, Minnesota, and Virginia.

Sunday Times Newspapers

DEARBORN – Not many teens fundraise year-round to work without pay for a week during their summer vacation.

Two dozen local teens and seven adult chaperones from three Dearborn parishes proved otherwise July 14 to 21 as they traveled to Greensboro, N. C. to serve people and organizations in need, joining with nearly 300 volunteers from across the country through Catholic Heart Work Camps.

Established in 1993, CHWC offers service projects and faith-building programs throughout the country for Catholic high school and college age youth and their leaders.

Julie Wieleba-Milkie, director of faith formation and coordinator of youth ministry at Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn has led seven summer mission trips since 2005 for area teens. She said CHWC mission trips are a life-changing, faith-building experience.

“You really grow into the person you are meant to be,” Wieleba-Milkie said. “And it’s a chance to be able to really experience what it means to serve in Jesus’ name, to serve others who are in need, to step outside your comfort zone, and to really give back to communities who are in need.”

Four-time mission trip participant and Dearborn resident John Struman, 17, of Sacred Heart Parish recommends the mission trip experience to teens who want to express their faith in a tangible way. He said this year’s work camp reinvigorated his faith.

Struman worked with volunteers from CHWC and Housing Greensboro, a non-profit community housing development organization, to build wheel chair ramps for low-income residents in need.

He said the volunteers bonded as they worked together, making a difference in their own lives as well as the residents they helped.

Melvindale resident Paul Armstrong, 21, a Dearborn Sacred Heart parishioner, said that for him the Greensboro trip, his fourth work camp as a volunteer and his first as a chaperone, was a spiritually enlightening experience.

Armstrong performed grounds maintenance and worked with children riding horses at Kopper Top Life Learning Center, a non-profit therapeutic facility in Liberty, N. C. He said working outdoors was a physical reminder that he was following the tenets of his faith to serve others.

“I was mostly doing yardwork… actually getting dirty and sweating,” Armstrong said. “This is a mark of how much we love Jesus and we love others. It’s a physical reminder that we’re being his hands and feet to the world.”

He added that CHWC is not all work.

“The place is called Catholic Heart Work Camp for a reason,” Armstrong said. “You’ve got daily Mass… and there’s all sorts of fun stuff, too. There’s a dance party, there’s really hilarious skits.”

Dearborn resident and first-time mission trip participant Celeste Holmes, 16, of Sacred Heart Parish, also enjoyed the evening activities, which she said ranged from dance activities with light sticks to prayerful activities.

She enjoyed meeting other volunteers from around the country, and seeing the contagious energy and enthusiasm they shared, adding that the volunteers came ready to work hard and enjoy the experience.

Holmes said she enjoyed working with disabled children at Kopper Top Life Learning Center, a non-profit therapeutic facility in Liberty, N. C.

“They were easy to get to know and very friendly,” she said. “It makes me want to work… like that maybe when I get older.”

Dearborn resident and chaperone Erin Holmes, director of faith formation for St. Joseph and St. Martha parishes in Dearborn, took part in her first mission trip along with her daughter Celeste.

Erin Holmes’ non-traditional work camp assignment, at a local zoo, was frustrating at first to the teen volunteers she was with. She said they wanted to build wheelchair ramps or help poor people instead of cleaning out cages.

“I really tried to impress upon the students… you don’t often bring your faith into your work… we were given the dismissal to ‘go forth and do his will’… no matter what our job is. So we’re not building a ramp for an elderly person, we’re not serving the poor, but we chose to see the (zoo) workers as the people we were to encounter… It gave (the teen volunteers) something to pray about, people to remember.”

Another chaperone, John Lakatos, 21, of Dearborn, a St. Martha’s parishioner, was also a first-time mission trip participant. He said he didn’t initially know what to expect from the mission trip except hard work.

“I met a lot of new friends and it really helped my faith,” Lakatos, who worked at Kopper Top Life Learning Center, said. “The night program was amazing… you’ll discover things about yourself that you’d never expect.”

Dearborn resident Madeleine Straley, 15, a St. Joseph parishioner, also took a leap of faith, relying on the recommendations of friends that she would enjoy her first mission trip experience.

Straley worked at a Girl Scout facility, restoring a butterfly garden and hauling rocks, which was physically challenging for her.

She said it was important for her to go outside her comfort zone, meet new people, and overcome her nervousness. She added that in the end volunteers have their own reasons for going on mission trips. Wieleba-Milkie added that while the CHWC mission trips are designed for both high school and college-age youth, adults are very much needed each year as chaperones.

“The teens and the young adults grow from the experience of working with the other adults,” she said. “They see people… serving together and realizing what it means to be Christian.”

Armstrong agreed with her assessment of the CHWC mission trips.

“It’s a lot of fun, it’s a very spiritually enlightening experience,” Armstrong said. “And I’ve never been disappointed by one.”

To see the mission trip blog, go to physh-chwc2012.blogspot.com. For more information about CHWC, go to www.heartworkcamp.com. To learn about Sacred Heart’s high school age youth fellowship, go to www.dearbornsacredheart.org/parish/education/physh.html.