More than 60 youth and adult volunteers from across the Diocese of Saginaw participated in Youth Encounter Service (Y.E.S.) from June 25 to 29. The weeklong mission helps high school teens learn about and fight poverty through the perspective of Catholic social teaching.
"People think for a mission trip you have to go far away, but there is a need right here (in the Diocese of Saginaw,) said Andrea Grifka (photo above), a teen from Good Shepherd Parish in Ubly. This was Andrea's third time participating in Y.E.S.
"This gives people a lot of hope," she said as she painted an elderly woman's house a fresh, bright shade of blue. "It makes them feel what God is about."
"It's such a good cause, and they're so appreciative, even of the little things. Every little bit helps," Andrea said. "I definitely think this is a good thing to do."
Andrea said the program has also helped her learn about the causes and effects of poverty, helping her empathize but also realize the importance of giving people a reason for hope. She recalled last summer the owner of the house she worked on was also volunteering with One Week, One Street, an urban revitalization effort.
"It shows that even if you don't have anything, you can still give your time," she said.
In conjunction with One Week, One Street, Y.E.S. volunteers beautified and made minor repairs to two homes along Webber Street in Saginaw. At one home, volunteers tore down an unsafe garage, scraped and repainted the exterior and replaced the concrete back steps with a new porch. After this week, the resident will get a new roof and gutters, installed by a contractor. At the other house, the primary goal was to scrape and repaint the exterior. Volunteers also helped with yard work, installed a new side door and porch lights, and replaced the front entryway roof with cedar shake. Both homes belonged to elderly women.
"We want (homeowners) to stay in Saginaw," said Y.E.S. director Nikki Bakos, adding that one of their goals is to help residents feel safe. That can be accomplished by adding porch lighting or improving entryways.
Y.E.S. emphasizes the dignity of each person they serve. Homeowners have the opportunity to select the paint color for their house, only quality materials are used, and volunteers pay close attention to details, like repairing window screens and ensuring no paint drips onto steps or porches.
Home improvements are funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a national collection which is held at Diocese of Saginaw parishes every year. Youth participation fees cover their food, lodging, and some supplies.
A team of almost 20 adult and youth leaders plan year-round for the week, including activities to share Catholic social teaching.
Eastside Soup Kitchen, Prayer and More
Youth also had the opportunity to visit agencies that serve a variety of groups throughout the week, such as the City Rescue Mission of Saginaw, Eastside Soup Kitchen, Emmaus House (a home for women transitioning out of incarceration or rehabilitation) and nursing homes. During their time at each agency, the youth learn about those served and volunteer their time as well.
The week also included a strong emphasis on prayer. Each morning, youth gathered for morning and group prayer time, and each evening closed with prayer. Masses were also celebrated throughout the week, including the annual Mass for Freedom.
"What you do in church to recognize Jesus helps you to recognize Jesus in others," said Bishop Joseph Cistone to the Y.E.S. youth during a visit on Thursday evening. He reminded the teens that the Jesus we encounter in the Eucharist is the same Jesus we encounter in those we serve.
"You're the heart and soul of the Church," Bishop Cistone told the youth.