July 6, 2012

Unique camp offers life lessons to middle school students

Brian Allspaw, right, an eighth-grader at St. Lawrence School in Indianapolis; Mia Pursell, a seventh-grader at Westlane Middle School in Indianapolis; Marta Schmitz, a sixth-grader at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Indianapolis; and Janie Gleaves, a seventh-grader at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, serve drinks, salad and fruit at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen in Indianapolis on June 19. The group traveled to the soup kitchen as part of their IntenCity Summer Service Camp. (Photo by Alison Graham)

Brian Allspaw, right, an eighth-grader at St. Lawrence School in Indianapolis; Mia Pursell, a seventh-grader at Westlane Middle School in Indianapolis; Marta Schmitz, a sixth-grader at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Indianapolis; and Janie Gleaves, a seventh-grader at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, serve drinks, salad and fruit at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen in Indianapolis on June 19. The group traveled to the soup kitchen as part of their IntenCity Summer Service Camp. (Photo by Alison Graham) Click for a larger version.

By Alison Graham

The bus bumped along the road as the children inside it belted the lyrics to popular songs playing on the radio.

Yet, these 31 children were not on a fun field trip, and they were not headed to the neighborhood pool. Instead, even in the laidback months of summer vacation, they chose to serve the community through a new program called IntenCity Summer Service Camp.

The program was offered to sixth- through eighth-grade students by Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis on June 18-22.

The idea for the service camp was developed by Indianapolis North Deanery youth ministers and Tyler Mayer, director of student life at Bishop Chatard.

“There are a lot of students who have time in the summer, and we thought it would be a good way for them to be productive and learn a little more about life,” Mayer said. “My goal is that just one student from this camp changes the way they live their life, and they make their life about service.”

Each day, the middle school students were taken to a different service organization to help distribute and organize food, do clean-up work or visit with elderly people. The Indianapolis venues included Food Link, the Cathedral Soup Kitchen, A Caring Place and St. Mary’s Child Center.

Sarah Herman, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, volunteered at A Caring Place, an adult day care center, on the first day of camp.

“It was cool meeting people with special needs because they all have different stories,” Sarah said. “I hope we’re being role models and showing people it’s not hard to make a difference. The people we helped will be glad that the next generation is so caring.”

The students made lunches at Bishop Chatard to hand out to the homeless in downtown Indianapolis on June 19.

“I think this was the best activity because from beginning to end the students had a part in it,” Mayer said. “They made the lunches, gave them out and talked to the people receiving them.

“One of my favorite parts is seeing the junior high students getting to learn from those they are serving. The hungry and homeless on the street have taught them a lot in the brief time they spent with them.”

Bishop Chatard students also volunteered to help lead the camp by serving with the campers and assisting them with their activities and service.

“I thought it’d be a great idea to help young kids,” said Philip Nicholas, a senior at Bishop Chatard. “I want them to love service as much as I do and really get hooked on it.”

During the first half of each day, the campers occasionally attended Mass and ate lunch. In the afternoons, they enjoyed swimming, bowling, miniature golf and other fun activities as a reward for their intense volunteer work. These activities were included to bring a balance to the service camp, Mayer said.

“We are doing some pretty serious service,” he said. “In my brief experience, this kind of ‘serious’ service can be hard for people to process, and these fun activities can be a real ease.”

Beyond the service and fun, the students encountered many different people and witnessed various hardships throughout the week.

“The hardest part is seeing the people who are suffering,” said Clare Behringer, an eighth-grade student at St. Luke the Evangelist School in Indianapolis. “We saw people with scars on their faces, and children and babies at Food Link. It’s hard to see how their clothes aren’t like ours, and they have to come to Food Link to get food.”

Despite the hardships, the students still made a difference in the community.

“The people we fed won’t go home hungry for once,” said Lauren LaMothe, an eighth-grade student at St. Luke School.

“I hope it inspires all people, young and old, to find ways to do just a little more,” Mayer said. “There is a lot of suffering in our city that could be lessened significantly if more people found creative ways to show love to those who are suffering.”
 

(Alison Graham, a senior at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, is a summer intern at The Criterion.)

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