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Mission Trips

During the summer of 2015, 17 teens and 5 adult leaders embarked on St Irene Parish’s first mission project for High Schoolers. The program was organized by Young Neighbors in Action, a Catholic national group that has been running Mission trips across the America since 1978. Our trip was to the City of Worcester, MA, in order to work on projects that impact those, who are the least fortunate among us. The theme of the first project was Salt and Light! Matthew 5:13-16 says: 

“You are the salt of the Earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer food for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others. That they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father."

A typical day begins with wake-up at 6:30 am, then 7:15 breakfast, 8:00 prayer session, 9-4 on-site work, 6:00 dinner and work share discussion, 7:30 evening program & prayer, 9-10 social time, 10-11 quiet time in sleeping areas, and 11 pm lights out.

Accommodations provide the participants with a dramatic change of pace: Hot weather, not much in terms of air conditioning, sleeping on the floor with air mattresses, basic and unglamorous food, community bathrooms and showers, and sharing with folks that they don’t know very well.

What follows are pictures from the week’s events and personal stories written by a few of the teens, who attended. All of the participants, organizers, and parents wish to thank the parish for the prayerful support and financial assistance, which made this program possible and successful.

St. Irene's narrative writing Mission Trip participants 2015 are all smiles!
Links to narratives

Narrative #1

The mission trip was a wonderful experience for me. I learned so much more than I thought I would in such a short period of time. I worked at Friendly House throughout the week with a group of 9 and 10 year olds. The kids were amazing and so much fun to be around, they were almost always full of laughter despite their home lives. The Young Neighbors volunteers at Friendly House would get back to St. Johns and compare stories and a major thing so many of  these children had in common was a broken home. It was extremely rare to meet a child who had a mother and father who lived in the same house, the kids never said “I’m going home” they said “I’m going to my Mom’s house” or “I’m going to my Dad’s house”. This was heartbreaking for all of us to hear, especially stories of the children in foster homes.

Another eye-opening experience was their lunches. They ate very small lunches consisting of a small sandwich that did not have much in it, a fruit, and a vegetable. It was hard to eat lunch with them because the kids kept asking us if we could give them our lunches even though we couldn’t due to allergies. It made us realize how lucky and fortunate we all are to have such good lives with every basic need filled. These kids had very little and still found happiness in the smallest of things. Materialistic items seem so petty after the trip. Phones and computers and designer clothes can be great but whenever they come up I think of those kids and how they are happy without having any of that.

After we got back from our work sites we reflected as a whole group in the auditorium. Our theme of the week was “salt and light” and the idea was to bring salt and light to everyone and everything around us. The scripture we read and reflected back to often was Matthew 25; we looked for God in our day to day lives and especially at the work sites. On our last night we broke up into small groups and one girl from the other parish said “I saw God every time a child laughed” and I think that summed up my week perfectly. The little miracles that I and everyone else experienced that week mean so much to me and I will never forget them. I really hope that I get the opportunity to do this next year!

- Caroline.

Narrative #2

In Worcester I worked with kids at a program called the friendly house. These children have working parents, single parents, or are foster kids. They need a place to spend their summer, while their parents work to care for them. Coming into this experience I was worried about how I would connect with kids who come from a very different lifestyle than me. They didn't have all the stuff I often take for granted.The first day a little boy came up to me, he asked me my name and from that moment on he never left my side.The nerves vanished when I saw how happy and positive these kids were. All they wanted was someone to play with. A few days later my group wasn't on time, and the moment I stepped in the door the young boy ran up to me and told me I was late. I was amazed about how much he cared, and I could tell he missed me though we were only a few minutes late.

All the kids were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Young Neighbours in Action, because they became a constant in their life. Although we were supposed to be helping the kids, the kids in return gave so much more back to us. Throughout the week I not only felt a strong bond form between me and the kids, I also felt my bond with God strengthen. Thank you.

-Keely.

Narrative #3

When I decided to volunteer to go on this mission trip and work with children, I was a little apprehensive about the impact I would have on them. When I arrived at the Friendly House, I didn’t know what to expect. We met with the activities director, who gave us some information on what the children’s background were, their situations, and how they would most likely respond to our arrival. I understood that the majority of these children were considered disadvantaged and led difficult lives. Knowing this information, I was very aware that I needed to have a positive impact on them.

One of my classmates and I were assigned to work with the 7-8 year old group. We were then introduced to the two councilors and we started interacting with the children immediately.  I noticed that some of the kids were physically hungry, and emotionally hungry for attention and support and I felt privileged to be there and to be able to give them that attention that they deserved.

On the second day, I was introduced to a young 7-year-old boy who I felt an immediate connection with. During the day, he started warming up to me and spending more time with me. During reading time, I was able to help him finish reading his book and we wrote a book report together. By completing this work, he was able to receive a free movie pass at a movie theater, which his parents most likely could not afford. Seeing him struggle academically gave me a sense of accomplishment that I was able to assist him in completing his book report. This was the first time I felt like I had a real impact in a child’s life.

The next day, I was speaking with one of the councilors and she proceeded to educate me on this little boy’s background.  This child currently lives in foster care with his 11-year-old sister, who is also in the program. His biological mother is unable to take care of them due to mental illness and the father passed away. I also learned that the government pays for the majority of the children, including this boy, to attend this program. Because the government has to pay for so many children, sending each child every week is too expensive. As much as this boy loved and thrived in this program, he was not going to be able to return the next week. Hearing this broke my heart. This boy was so optimistic about everything, and it made me reflect on the life that I lead. This boy, who has lost so much and lacks stability in his life, has such a great outlook, and learning that really moved me. Learning and seeing this made me change the way I see my own life. I was worried about the impact I would have on him, but I had no idea the emotional and spiritual impact he had on me.

Working with him, and all the children was such an amazing opportunity.  I did not expect to make such beautiful connection with these children, as well as my peers who worked along side me.  I know for a fact that these children, the councilors, and the whole program impacted us all. I am honored and blessed to be a part of a program that does such great and important work.

- Isabel.

For more information​ about future programs being planned and how to engage in them, please contact peerleaders@stirenes.org 

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