Mission trip was a life-changing experience for manyOn July 4, 28 teenage members of the St. Joe’s Mission Team set out on an unforgettable journey that will forever remain etched in their memories and remembered in their hearts.
Editor’s note: St. Joseph Church member Matthew Foley provided this account of a mission trip to West Virginia.
On July 4, 28 teenage members of the St. Joe’s Mission Team set out on an unforgettable journey that will forever remain etched in their memories and remembered in their hearts.
Led by team leaders Dave Berg, Nancy Massey, Kathleen “Ocho” Overby and Jim Herrick, the 28 volunteers ranging from grades 10-12 began their journey into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in a small area in southwestern West Virginia known as Lincoln County. They operated through a organization known as YouthWorks and lived and worked for the community in the towns of Hamlin and West Hamlin.
In the Lincoln County area, near 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and in a place where the average per capita income is $13,073, children and adults alike find opportunities to work and prosper scarce. In the run down, used-to-be coal towns, there is one county high school and education opportunities are extremely limited. Some children are faced with a two-hour plus commute to school each day, and with several households without sufficient means of transportation, many children do not go to school.
In this area, recreation for adolescents is limited, and there are high rates of drug and alcohol abuse as well as extremely high teen pregnancy rates.
The 28 unsuspecting teens stumbled into a place that really hit them harder than expected. Throughout the week spent in Hamlin, the mission members participated in construction work, aiding handicapped residents by building wheelchair ramps, as well as staircases and painting work. They helped stock food shelves at local businesses and participated in Bingo and sing-alongs at the local nursing home (kudos to the brilliant harmonica player).
Half of our 28-member team was blessed with the opportunity to work at Kid’s Club. In Kid’s Club, children ranging from the ages of 5-13 were brought together at the local elementary school to engage in activities ranging from kickball to Bible studies to crafts to reading and water balloon games. The focus of the Kids Club was to provide, if only for a week, a positive role model for these children with lesser motivation and opportunity.
Many members of the team teamed up with sort of their buddy who they played on the playground with and participated in activities with throughout the week. Many of the children opened up to their buddies about struggles they face at home, as well as their dreams and aspirations. It was a real eye-opener for many team members.
As much as our team impacted the lives of those desperate children, the children showed us several things about ourselves and really impacted our life.
Rob Temple, a member of Kids Club stated, “This mission trip has changed my life and has probably been the greatest experience I’ve ever had. I’ve learned so much about myself and these wonderful children.”
The week was full of surprises and encouragement, the atmosphere in which we worked was incredible and overall it was an amazing trip. We set out to change lives and little did we know that we were about to change our own as well. The experience was extremely fulfilling and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Our mission leader, Dave Berg, commented in one of our group discussions that he has never seen such a close mission group.
The YouthWorks staff encouraged us during the week to shed our “faces” and get to know people for who they are, not what they do, and we all did that and the feeling is incredible. All the work was worth each smile on a little child’s face, and going to sleep at night knowing you made a difference. We were all given “happy fun bags” in which to leave each other encouraging notes. Team leader Nancy Massey, well characterized for her amazing laugh and high five,s left me one that said, “Believe the incredible and you can do the impossible.”
By the time of our departure from Hamline back to the Cincinnati airport, I truly believe we had all come to believe the incredible, and by showing up to support those community members each and every day, we did the impossible in Hamlin, W.Va. My heart goes out to all mission members who created a special bond with a community member or child. In the end the most important thing was that we provided for those peoples of Lincoln County the most incredible gift possible, and that of which they had been exposed to the least: love.