Hard work results in blessings for all on mission trip

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This year’s JWalkers mission trip group included (front row, from left) organizer Mary Stoeffler, Reagan Hannah, Morgan Chase, Avery Thompson, chaperone Molly Farrell Kirschbaum; (second row) Allison Kennedy, Mattie Otts, Scout Hall, Ava Forde, Chris Cortez, Julian DeGidio, Ryan Waller, Cooper Broillet, Alexius Geisler, Anna Szymanski, Makenna Forde, Josie Spingler; (third row) Lindsey Nolan, Emma Abram, Jack MacEachern, Shawn Egstad, Juan Pablo, J.T. Egstad, Thomas Haney, Zach Mezera, Dawson Eastman, Taylor Haney, Peggy Koresh, Sadie Koresh, Grant Lamberty, Grace Fritsche; (fourth row) chaperone Christine Magnusen, chaperone Todd Koresh, chaperone Sara Rybarczyk, Riley Hammel, Sara Check, chaperone Amanda Otte, Jerrod Osterkamp, Zach Mara, chaperone Alex Osterkamp. (Submitted photos)

Allison Kennedy, Avery Thompson, Lindsey Nolan and Makenna Forde (with chaperone Molly Farrell Kirschbaum behind her) worked as a small group to tear down a shed from top to bottom.

Zach Mara, Zach Mezera, Riley Hammel and Thomas Haney worked together to replace a ceiling.

By Correne Martin

 

The JWalkers youth group spent a week in Schriever, La., for their annual mission trip to help people in need of storm cleanup and home repairs.

Thirty Prairie du Chien area youth and 10 from across the La Crosse Catholic Diocese—over half of which were repeat missioners—gained life experiences by assisting those who found themselves in devastating situations through no fault of their own. 

The JWalkers will host a dinner, video and presentation for all who supported them at St. John’s Fellowship Hall Wednesday, Aug. 10, at 6 p.m.

The crew left July 24 at 9 p.m., at the end of a weekend when many of the kids had just finished a ball tournament. The leader of the pack and trip organizer Mary Stoeffler said it was the quietest bus trip in all her years of mission trips. Upon arrival in Louisiana, the boys and girls got to work on Tuesday morning. 

The first day involved two locations that needed demolition and removal of ceilings, installation of insulation, preparations for sheetrock, gutting of multiple rooms, flower bed cleanup, and moving and stacking woodpiles that were home to a few lizards and snakes. The day ended with a private tour of the Regional Military Museum and a stop for ice cream. 

For the second day, they split into two groups once again to continue some of the same work, including lots of nail removal. Stoeffler, chaperone Molly Farrell Kirschbaum and four of the girls went to completely tear down a shed. 

Stoeffler said, early on, the group impressed every site’s project manager with their speed and accuracy in insulating and sheetrocking especially.

“They all said how unusual our group was. They were blown away by our work ethic,” she said. 

The second evening, the homeowner, also Captain Billy of Cajun Man Swamp Tours, and his wife Tammy, took the group on a tour. Stoeffler said his knowledge and skills in the animals of the swamp were amazing.

On the third day, the entire team went to the same location. They again sheetrocked, demoed, tore down fence, pulled up cork board sub floor, and removed a hallway ceiling and paneling.

“It was so hot that day and the only way to get the nails and the cork subfloor up was to chip at it with a crow bar,” she described. 

That night, following a downpour, the local church and Knights of Columbus made a jambalaya and red bean supper for the JWalkers. 

“Their priest, Father Simon Peter, talked to our kids about making good choices and following a life of service,” Stoeffler added. 

For the fourth day, the youth were motivated to finish the projects they started. They got a couple more cork subfloors torn up along with some more cleanup. That night, the Catholic Charities organization—which worked with Stoeffler to coordinate the mission trip—surprised the JWalkers with a band, cornhole and other games, and dinner at an outdoor restaurant that included alligator bites, corn cheddars, chicken and cheese. They all ended up dancing the night away, and the hosts even took up a collection from others in the restaurant to donate to the Prairie du Chien youth group once they learned why the kids were there. 

“I try to make sure the kids know how much people appreciate how they give of themselves,” Stoeffler stated.  

Concluding each night of the trip was always talk and prayer time, where each and every student is asked to share something. She noted how this time really opened up the “flood gates” for some of them.

On the final day in Louisiana, the group toured Mardi Gras World, where they make the incredible parade floats for the February holiday, and had lunch at the River Walk.

Upon their return, Stoeffler asked each of the youth to write a synopsis of their experience. One of the young men wrote about the abundance of kindness he saw the entire time. He was also grateful for the opportunity to learn more about construction. 

Stoeffler said one of her favorite moments was when she and some of the girls worked to tear down a shed together. For her, the blessings weren’t even about the work in that moment, but rather about getting the kids away to just have daily conversations.

“These kids are so busy running here and there. So many of them were just really glad to have this opportunity to get away. I saw some kids really blossom,” Stoeffler reflected. She also said how respectful they were, how she never had to wait for any of them, how well they listened, and how they were hardly on their smartphones throughout the workdays. “These trips serve us just as much as they do the people we’re helping.”

She finished by sharing, “In all the trips I’ve taken, God really controlled this one. These students are truly the hands and feet of Jesus.”

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