Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 29, 2002

Poverty stricken town gives Holy Trinity students welcome

By Lynda Jensen

Poor and underprivileged people gave a warm reception to 24 students and adults from Holy Trinity parish, who traveled to an Illinois town July 13 to roll up their sleeves for a week of painting and spending time with children and other community members.

The students spent a week painting the exterior of houses for poor folks at Cairo, Ill., which is a town at the southernmost tip of the state.

The experience is part of YouthWorks, a non-denominational nationwide program that offers service oriented mission trips for young people helping to improve communities.

Students rose at 7 a.m., with lights out at the end of the day at 11:15 p.m. They were lodged at an elementary school in Cairo.

Her arms were tired when she returned, but not necessarily from all the painting ­ it was the piggy back rides she gave, said Nicole Caouette, 16.

The best part of the trip was meeting so many people, Caouette said. This was her first trip.

Krissy Schoenfelder, 16, echoed this sentiment, saying that the excitement of the children made the experience richer. This was also her first trip.

The heat index was about 102, with students standing atop 24-foot ladders to paint, commented Ryan Gueningsman. This was his third and last trip, since he was a senior this year, unless he decides to return to the group as a chaperone.

He remembers a black woman sticking her head outside the door on her back porch, looking at the workers painting her house, saying "Oh my Lord in heaven ­ it's a miracle!"

Racial tension is a factor in Cairo, but the students were received with open arms, group leader Lavon Kielkucki said. "They trusted us."

"It was a good cultural experience," Gueningsman added.

Shifts of students from many different churches take turns doing the work during the course of eight or nine weeks, with about 65 church people in town per week, Kielkucki said. A core of YouthWorks leaders stayed constant throughout the summer.

Students spent two days painting, and two days in fellowship with the children of the community, she said.

Cairo is a dead town, since it depended on river traffic during the 1900s and did not bounce back from the Great Depression, Gueningsman said.

"Nearly every building along main street is boarded up," he added.

The students were lodged at a Catholic church called Holy Trinity in Bloomington, Ill. in transit, she said. Another place that hosted the students on their return trip was Mount Mercy Catholic College at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Two years ago, the students visited the Appalachian Mountains in southern West Virginia, said coordinator Lavon Kielkucki. Last year, students worked at an Indian reservation at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

The trips are possible because of local fundraising endeavors, including a pancake breakfast, garage sale, candy sales, and grocery bagging, Kielkucki said. Several organizations donate toward the cause as well, she said.

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