by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
OLATHE — Before leaving for a mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico, in December, Marisela Resendiz was unsure of her decision to volunteer at Casa del Migrante, a shelter for male deportees from the United States.
Resendiz now believes it was one of the best decisions of her young, adult life.
Resendiz, along with her sister, Selena Resendiz, Enrique Cabrera and Ana Angeles were among a small group of college-aged parishioners from St. Paul Church in Olathe to volunteer at the Casa.
Each has a personal story of immigration from another generation. And each is feeling blessed to have the opportunity to live in the United States and pursue a college education.
“I moved to the U.S. when I was three, along with all of my family,” said Marisela Resendiz, a social work student at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park. “My dad was able to bring us once he became a U.S. citizen.”
“He was blessed to receive his residence in the 1980s with the amnesty that allowed him to work legally in the U.S.,” she continued. “He learned English, and was then able to take the test to become a U.S. citizen.
“In the year 2000, we moved to Kansas and we started our new life.”
St. Paul pastor Father Michael Hermes and his parishioners have adopted the Casa as their mission, showing great support over the past few years.
The four students spent their brief, three-day mission trip organizing and cleaning the Casa, preparing and serving meals, and getting to know the men who live there.
Casa del Migrante provides temporary assistance in the form of food, shelter, legal and emotional guidance to its male residents. It has served more than 9,000 men from 32 countries, more than 90 percent of whom have been deported from the United States.
Its main function is to help the residents reintegrate into society, especially by helping them find work.
Father Pat Murphy, CS, is the director of the Casa and the former animator for Hispanic ministry here in the archdiocese. He said the students were a wonderful addition at a busy time of year.
“It is not easy to come and get involved in just three days, but they were real troupers who gave it their all and made the best of their short time at the Casa,” said Father Pat.
“One of the highlights of their time of service at the Casa was when they prepared lunch for the nine full-time volunteers of the Casa,” he continued.
Fort Hays State freshman Enrique Cabrera, who is studying criminal justice, said his time at the Casa gave him a new perspective on immigration. His own father immigrated to the U.S. when Enrique was young.
“My father passed away, but he was always working to provide for my mother and me with another baby on the way,” Cabrera said. “I didn’t want to just see the immigration issue from the American standpoint, but from the migrants’ side as well.”
Cabrera said he was touched by the people he met and their immigration stories.
“This experience helped me see how blessed I am to be here. People travel from all over to be here in the United States,” he said.
The four students were selected to make the mission trip to the Casa because of their studies in the areas of law, social work, secondary education and criminal justice.
Father Hermes hoped the trip will prepare the four to one day assume leadership roles in the Catholic Church.
“I’m just beyond thankful for the amazing experience I had, and I have a stronger walk with Jesus,” said Ana Angeles, a student at Johnson County Community College and the University of Kansas. Angeles is studying to be a human rights and immigration attorney.
“God definitely prepared me in ways I never thought he could,” she said. “It helps me to remember that we are not owed anything in life. Everything is a free gift from God. We need to truly appreciate what we have.”
Selena Resendiz is studying middle school education with an emphasis in math at Emporia State University. She left the Casa with the realization that contributing in such a simple way could make a huge difference.
Additionally, she had the opportunity to gain perspective of the border wall that continues to be a topic in the news.
“We had the opportunity to see some parts of the border,” said Selena Resendiz. “That was the moment I realized that the ‘wall’ had much more meaning, and that, for many people, their hope was behind that wall.”
According to Father Pat, the Casa relies heavily on the resident team of six to seven full-time volunteers. He is always looking for new, full-time volunteers who are willing to volunteer for at least three months.
“It is an experience that will change your life forever,” he said.
Interested volunteers can contact Father Pat by email at: casadelmigrante firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, the Casa continuously needs financial support and donations of socks and men’s underwear.