by Steve Johnson
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — Some high school students spend the summer traveling. Others just spend the summer at the pool. And still others get summer jobs.
But teens working with the Prayer and Action team of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas gave up part of their summer and committed themselves to the service of others.
Harder still, they surrendered their cellphones and electronic devices to do it!
“These kids have been great!” said Betty Pilcher, whose Atchison home was being worked on by one of the Prayer and Action teams. “I couldn’t have done this myself, that’s for sure. They’ve come and cut down trees, worked on my wall, painted my porch. They’ve just been great.”
Pilcher had been selected to receive the service through Catholic Charities, which helped her apply to the Prayer and Action program. The Prayer and Action leaders had selected Atchison for the site for service this year.
According to Ben Rogers, a seminarian for the archdiocese who worked as part of the Prayer and Action team as his summer assignment, once the site is selected, applications are made available on the archdiocesan website and elsewhere. People can then either apply for help for themselves or nominate others for help.
Two weeks before the start of work, the applications are collected from the different sites. The site coordinator — this year, it was Kate Albrecht from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence — then reviews them and visits with all the homeowners. She makes sure that each location is both large enough to require a week’s worth of work and within the scope of skills of the high school group. She also makes sure it is a safe location.
“We bring an average of 50 or 60 students through participating youth groups, and they bring chaperones and work for a week,” said Rogers. “We bring a different group of 50 or 60 students each week for five weeks (through July 17). And we mix them all up, so they get to know other youth in the archdiocese.”
Maur Hill-Mount Academy was the host institution in Atchison, where the students slept on the floor of classrooms. The relatively uncomfortable conditions are an intentional part of the experience.
“Part of the missionary aspect of the program is to be able to enter into a week of poverty, a week of simplicity,” Rogers said. “So we can lift those things up [to God] and pray for the people we are serving.”
That’s also why the students “unplug” for the week, he added. Despite the privations, many of the students return for more than one year of service.
“I like helping other people,” said Adrian Cisneros, a junior at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas. “I didn’t have any plans last summer, so I decided to go and try it. And I got to meet some really cool people.”
Cisneros enjoyed meeting others in the work group, as well as interacting with the people they were helping.
“[Betty Pilcher] has three cats and a dog, so it’s kind of cool to see her with her animals,” he said. “And it’s nice to see how much we can do for her. We cut down all the overgrown grass and trees, and we’re painting her porch. She’s elderly and she definitely couldn’t do that herself.”
Colleen Adams, from Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood, is a junior at Blue Valley North High School. She was originally influenced to get involved in the Prayer and Action program by her sister, who had participated in previous years. She enjoyed meeting Catholics from across the state, but also meeting those they are helping, like Pilcher.
“It’s just a really rewarding feeling knowing that you’re helping somebody and making their day better,” Adams said. “She is a really nice lady; she’s really loving. It’s super-nice to have somebody so grateful for what we’re doing.”
Jacob Gerber, a senior at Silver Lake High School in Silver Lake, is back for his fourth year of participation in the Prayer and Action program.
“People are always talking about the change that needs to happen in the world, but most of the time they are thinking too broad,” he said. “They don’t think about coming into a small town and directly helping people that need it.
“I mean, this place looks so much better than it did, and that’s making a difference for this woman.”