Youth from Two Parishes Offer Service in Alaska

Fifty-two youth and 14 adults from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel/Holy Spirit Youth Ministry (in Herrin and Carterville respectively) performed more than 1,200 hours of service in Anchorage, Alaska from July 10, 2016-July 16, 2016. The group performed service in multiple locations in the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

“The trip for me was a way to evaluate myself as a person and my relationship with God, while helping others,” Marion High School senior Sarah Diederich said.

Herrin High graduate Maura Farrell agreed. “The trip brought new friends into my life, helped reconnect me to lost ones; yet above all, the trip strengthened my faith and taught me that God will always have the best plan.”
The youth ministry group spent the better part of the last school year fund raising and planning for the week. The trip is part work, part spiritual retreat, and part adventure.

“These kids gave their hearts and souls to the Lord and have left their mark on Alaska. We even had an awesome article written in the Anchorage Dispatch News,” one adult youth minister said.

These kids (6 teams of 11) pulled weeds, removed shrubs, raked, shoveled, painted, built a deck, cut and prepared food in a soup kitchen, served the hungry, cleaned windows, worked for Catholic Social Services, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, three different parishes, women’s shelters, botanical gardens and a Catholic high school,” adult youth minister, Donna Conover of Carterville said. “We scrubbed, we cleaned, we dug holes, we fed the hungry, we said goodbye to our graduating seniors, we bonded, we prayed. We served the Lord.”

To be able to work more effectively, the large group was divided into six 11-person teams. Each team had different work assignments each day.

The smaller groups operated independently during the day. Each small group had two teens who acted as the leaders for the team. The youth leaders had contact with the clients each day and were responsible for the group during the workday.

This was the second trip to Anchorage for the youth ministry and by far the largest. “We have a great relationship with Archbishop (Roger) Schweitz, OMI” Diane Goffinet, an adult chaperone, said.

The group arranges its own work, but has a close relationship with Catholic Social Services in Anchorage.
“We have been so overjoyed to be working with these young volunteers from Illinois,” said Lisa Aquino, executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. “They’ve accomplished a great deal in terms of work done and have made an even greater contribution in terms of connection and community.

“They represent young people from across the country, ready to work and contribute to make their world better.
“We are so fortunate that they chose to work with us in living out their faith, and helping us to fulfill our mission of serving the poor and those in need, strengthening families and individuals, and advocating for social justice,” Aquino said.

In addition to doing service, the group spent two evenings with youth from Anchorage, playing games and spending time in prayer. Additionally, the youth spent time in prayer each night. During the trip, the youth received letters of support from Bishop Braxton, Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis, Archbishop Gregory of Atlanta, and the head of Catholic Relief Services, Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo.

The young people got the chance to hike to the top of Flattop Mountain, hike Hatcher’s Pass and visit Palmer, Alaska. Two of the teams got the chance to attend morning Mass with Archbishop Schwietz, OMI. Mainly though, the week is about service.

The youth were up at 6 am a.m. each morning and on the road by 7:30. The teams did work ranging from cooking and cleaning to rebuilding a deck and fence for Catholic Social Services. The youth, by their own agreement, gave up cell phones during the workdays, mealtimes, and evening activities.  The work allows the local agencies to devote resources in other places. “The groups were, to quote a cliché, a god-send.  Having only two men servicing 18 properties we don’t get to schedule many extra projects and your group helped us take care of many of them,” said Dave O’Neel, maintenance director at Catholic Social Services.

Austin Eichorn, a Marion High School graduate, summed up the trip, “It gave me an appreciation for the natural beauty of God’s creation, the joy of sharing our gifts and the unity of being a part of a group that was truly able to make a difference,” she said.

For further information please call Diane Goffinet, 618-727-5270.

— Hon. Jeffrey Goffinet