By Maria Sermersheim
Approximately 85 diocesan youth and adults gathered June 12-15 at the Sarto Retreat Center to serve the local community and be the light of Christ to others and each other. The fourth annual Mission Evansville served 12 different organizations at a minimum of 15 different locations.
Eight crews volunteered at the Dream Center, the CAPE program at Ivy Tech and Headstart, Ozanam Family Shelter, Keep Evansville Beautiful, Seton Harvest, the Boys and Girls Club, Evansville Christian Life Center, University Nursing and Rehabilitation, Tri-State Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House, St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, and Borrowed Hearts. The crews estimated that they pulled 172,800 weeds at Seton Harvest, gave approximately 185 piggyback rides at the Boys and Girls Club, and served 225 meals at one time at the Evansville Christian Life Center.
Providing social services to help people in our community lift themselves out of poverty and difficult circumstances is a team effort. Each of the organizations depends on another in some way, so the programs are very interconnected in order to best meet the needs of the people. These organizations do amazing work for our community, and Mission Evansville contributes significantly to their work. I asked some coordinators of the organizations about their operations, and they couldn’t say enough about volunteers.
For Joe Schalasky, the farm manager of 14 years at Seton Harvest, “It’s like Christmas morning every day to go to work . . . because I know what we do here is going to help other organizations in town fulfill their mission.” Seton Harvest has donated 118,000 pounds of produce in the past 13 years to local initiatives. He told our volunteers, “It’s not just today what you’re doing, it’ll last for months.” One good weeding of the okra and peppers early on will help them flourish until frost.
William Scruggs from the Dream Center said, “Without volunteers, we don’t make it.” The program provides a safe environment and meal program for children in Jacobsville, the most impoverished area of the city. As Tonya Staup of the Boys and Girls Club said, these organizations are a “positive safe place for our kids,” especially “at-risk youth.”
Sharon Taylor of the Evansville Christian Life Center agreed, “We thrive and survive on volunteers.” Many of their daily services depend on volunteer assistance, and when they welcome larger volunteer groups like ours, then they can complete some additional labor-intensive projects that need to be done but are continually postponed for lack of time and help. Thus, volunteers both regular and occasional help them “serve with excellence.”
Glenn Roberts from Tri-State Food Bank shared, “The core of how we get things done is volunteers.” Their spokesperson at the closing ceremony reiterated the fact that volunteers help them “translate every dollar into serving meals.”
Our crews have particularly impacted Ozanam Family Shelter. Previously, we installed a perimeter fence for their backyard along the alley, where people would inadvertently drive through and rut the yard. According to executive director Danette Romines, two years ago it was a mud pit, but today it is a much-appreciated green space. This year, we helped the temporary and emergency shelter (which is always at capacity) make another family room available by consolidating their storage elsewhere. The days spent working in the greater Evansville community concluded with building our diocesan community: playing frisbee and kickball, hearing from various speakers, sharing in small groups, and participating in Mass, adoration, and Confession.
Bishop Joseph M. Siegel celebrated the closing Mass Saturday night, connecting the work of Mission Evansville and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. He said the sign of the cross “reminds us that we are to live, act and move in the love of God the Father, through the grace of God the Son and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. With the sign of the cross, we proclaim that reality that the Trinity is alive and active in our lives and in our world.”
He continued, “We are to go out, as you have these past few days, to serve those in need, the poor, the homeless, the unborn, the lonely, the neglected. Like those athletes making the sign of the cross, we are to insert the sacred realities of our faith into our secular world . . .”
Mission Evansville hopes to be the starting point for community involvement, not the fulfillment of some quota of service. It introduces the participants to various opportunities to contribute, and there are many ways to extend the work we’ve begun through Mission Evansville. One of our youth groups and the Boys and Girls Club are already discussing ways to “expand that collaboration.” Many organizations emphasized that our youth should turn to them when in need of service hours — and anytime they might be compelled to serve.
Mission Evansville has jumpstarted some incredible contributions to the community. You can help continue this work and find ways to aid these local organizations on their websites and Facebook pages; they are always grateful for volunteers and donations, and there is always more to be done.
See more photos under Mission Evansville 2019 (gallery)