Sister Mary Core’s parish youth group recently spent a week teaching, guiding and playing with young kids in Davenport’s inner city. Here’s a peek into one of their afternoons, as part of occasional series of stories about Benedictine Sisters’ ministries.
Walk through the front door of this tiny aluminum sided house and you see kids of every age playing games, coloring, laughing and squabbling. You hear a din of voices. And today you smell … cake.
The Project Renewal Treat House was founded in 1973 to serve the kids of the neighborhood, and this neighborhood is no picnic. Marked by at least one former crack house (it was raided a couple of years ago), a soup kitchen, transitional housing for newly released inmates and a rehab facility for delinquent teenage boys, many would call the place a bit dicey.
But for the kids, it’s just home.
Today the kids are making 321 Cake in mugs. Even the little ones can make their own, spooning a bit of batter into a cup, nuking it for a minute and decorating with store-bought icing.
They are making the cakes under the tutelage of a few members of Sister Mary Core’s youth group. This group of teens moved in Sunday night – they roll up their sleeping bags during the day – and will stay through Friday. The Treat House welcomes such outreach all summer long, never mind the tight quarters.
From ‘whupping’ to ‘please’
The youth group – Ashley, Bradlee, and Emily are here now – have fallen in love with the kids and the ministry, despite their middle class upbringing.
“I don’t want to leave at all,” Ashley says. “I feel like this all is a large family. I love the kids so much.”
Bradlee says she had been nervous before coming.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “But I love it. I never realized how close our own poverty was. You expect it in California and Chicago and New York. But here it is. And I’m glad I can help.”
Emily lists a little to one side as she comes by to chat. She’s got a 6-year-old on her back.
“The kids all look good here,” she says. “You wouldn’t guess they live in poverty. But you can tell from how they talk to each other what kind of home life they have. This little girl said, ‘Give me a piggyback ride or I’m gonna whup you on your bottom.’ I helped her ask nicely, with a please. But that’s what she hears at home.”
Appetite for service
Sister Mary has brought her group here to help the teens see poverty up close; to help them see the kids as real people. It’s working.
“I love working with youth,” she begins. “I love helping them see that God loves them. I love helping them see God in others. Here, they are seeing God in people they’ve avoided or not had the opportunity to meet before. It’s just wonderful.”
Sister Mary loves helping her teens engage in Catholic social justice values, as well.
“Whether we’re here in this troubled neighborhood, or we’re making warm blankets for those in need, or we’re caroling at senior service agencies, we’re modeling Christ’s values,” she says. “The teens’ pay is in thank you’s. They are developing an appetite for service; for doing things for those who need it because that’s what Christians do.”
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