Rockford has been heavily hit by the manufacturing slowdown and has an unemployment rate of 17 percent, said Mary Feind, group leader. The teens fill a need by serving the elderly, the YMCA or homeless shelters.
“Our mission is not only to do the physical work but to make friends with the residents,” she said.
It wasn’t always easy. In the beginning, according to participants, some residents were a little standoffish but were won over quickly. For others, the bond was nearly instant, like one who told a teen she loved her after 20 minutes of window washing.
Kate Winkler described her 71-year-old resident as a “very sweet” widow whose husband died three years ago. She is recovering from a double knee replacement and her garage and shed needed to be painted.
When the teens arrived, the woman asked if they could paint her entire house and the trim as well. The group got the job done in three and a half days filled with temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity not much lower. It was more than worth it, Winkler said.
“I don’t even know the word for it,” she said.
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The teens served as much more than painters. The woman doesn’t talk to her family but wouldn’t stop talking about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to her new friends. She cried when they left.
“It was as life changing for her as it was for us,” Winkler said.
Campers shared similar stories in front of the group as they held a cross from the Holy Land and described where they saw God during the week. Benzing said his resident lost five husbands yet took the opportunity to share her strength and faith.
“What an awesome faith that must be,” he said.
Benzing’s eight-person team accomplished an awesome feat itself, moving 3,000 pounds of gravel in 12 and a half minutes with three, five-gallon pails “without a wheel barrel.” Only the two guys in the group could pick up a pail by themselves.
Sawyer Buck was part of a group that laid mulch for a playground and did a mass mailing seeking sponsors for a poor Catholic school with 45 students and one janitor who worked for free.
“It was very rewarding and I got closer to God,” the sophomore said.
After a minimum of eight- to 10-hour workdays, teens returned to the retreat house for spiritual workshops and programs like eucharistic adoration.
Many talked about four corners – a night of candlelit prayer in which teens would approach adults and ask them to lead a prayer. The four corners represent self-healing, reconciliation, faith and others. Confession followed.
Besides Kewaskum, teens from across the country converged on the camp. Bonding and mutual trust was almost instant as people from different backgrounds shared information.
“I have friends now from Texas, Indiana, Michigan. Everyone’s so accepting, non-judgmental,” said Kurer, a student at St. Mary Springs Academy in Fond du Lac.
Even among 300 self-motivated, Christian teens, the Holy Trinity-St. Michael’s group stood out.
Benzing said the group cleaned out the building in 20 minutes because it was double booked and it had to leave sooner than expected. Camp organizers were amazed.
On Sunday, the group thanked the parish and its “stockholders.” For a donation of any amount, a donor received a stock certificate in the “faith future of our youth,” Feind said.
Through fundraisers throughout the year, the teens fund the $300 cost per person for the trip.
“They’re still paying to go help people which to a lot of people is unheard of and crazy,” Feind said.
“It’s always so hard to come home and put it in words and perspective so people can understand,” Benzing said.
“No one goes away untouched,” Feind said.