From July 17-22, 111 students involved with the St. Mary’s Catholic Church Youth Ministries, along with 18 chaperones, participated in the 2018 Alive in Youth mission trip and conference. The group worked with St. Louis residents and cleaned up a school during the day. In the evenings, they listened to speakers and attended Mass.
It’s the third year the Spring Lake parish provided its youth with an opportunity to participate in the trip and conference. Thirty-one students participated in the first mission trip, and more than 70 served last year in Kewaskum, Wisconsin.
Once the school year ends, many of the students said they begin counting down the days until the trip.
Masen Carey, who has participated in all three trips, said it’s the best week of her summer. Now 15, Carey said it helps strengthen their religion and friendships because they’re surrounded by people who are positive and deep in their faith.
“It brings out the best in yourself,” she said.
Chris Iwan, coordinator of the St. Mary’s middle school/high school youth ministry, said he enjoys seeing the transformation in the students.
When they leave on a Tuesday, the kids start out nervous and anxious, but they eventually step out of their comfort zones. Iwan said the project initially seems overwhelming to complete in five days, but they learn they can complete challenging tasks.
“They see the benefit it has on others,” he said. “The joy and confidence you can see in their eyes is priceless.”
The group said they could tell their efforts made a large impact on the school, its staff and other St. Louis residents.
“It doesn’t really feel like work,” said Collin Shippy, 14.
Seeing her fellow teens work alongside others gives her hope for the future, said Anna Corgan, 16.
Although some people have a feeling about their faith, Corgan said they might not take action on it.
“It’s really cool to be able to go out and actually live out your faith,” she said.
“The work makes a big impact, but your faith also gets changed,” added Carey.
Kate Galloway, 15, was participating for a second year. She said she initially joined the mission because her friends spoke about their experiences and growing closer to God.
Corgan said she liked hearing the speakers because she was able to relate to them.
Iwan said that he is often asked why the local church group travels to do work. He explained that it’s because once the teens see what they’re able to do, they can’t help but feel that they will want to help their community when they return home.
“The lessons these students and adults learn will last a lifetime,” Iwan said.
The students were asked to bring a bag of hygiene products they use in a month and donate it to Spring Lake Public Schools. They collected more than 120 bags, and Iwan explained to them that the number of teens facing homelessness in their own school district is on the rise.