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St. Mary’s Sycamore teens travel to help underprivileged children, adults in Toledo

Published: Friday, July 4, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
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Eli Bliujus paints a mural on a fence.
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Matthew Coover was one of 23 teenagers and five adults from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sycamore who traveled to Toledo in June as part of a mission group through Catholic Heart Work Camps.

SYCAMORE – Matthew Coover learned some lessons of his own while teaching kindergartners in the inner city of Toledo, Ohio, this summer.

“We have a lot of stuff given to us here,” the Sycamore 16-year-old said. “We take things for granted, but we need to be grateful.”

Coover was one of 23 teenagers and five adults from St. Mary's in Sycamore who traveled to Toledo in June as part of a mission group through Catholic Heart Work Camps. The St. Mary's group joined 300 other missionaries on the trip, where they helped residents and local service agencies garden, improve their homes, learn and spread God's love.

From June 8 to 14, Coover worked at the Padua Center, an organization the helps underprivileged children and adults. He worked with about 30 kids from first- to eighth-grade for six hours a day, performing skits to bring the Bible to life.

Coover connected with a couple of the kids, but a 6- or 7-year-old boy stood out the most. The boy was shy and didn't have many friends, which prompted Coover to help him open up a little.

“We told him it was OK to dance to songs and not just stand there,” Coover said. “By the end of the trip he was the best dancer there.”

St. Mary's takes a mission trip every year, said Sara Blaser, coordinator of Youth Ministry.

At the end of the work day, around 3 p.m., volunteers returned to an area high school where they held daily Mass, reconciliation and other programs before sleeping on the gym floor.

Because kids from St. Mary's were dispersed into different groups throughout Toledo, the time at the end of the night gave them a chance to reconnect, Blaser said.

“They processed the day and what we were doing,” Blaser said. “It was a nice opportunity for kids to share what they were doing with each other.”

Blaser has gone on a mission trip with St. Mary's groups for six years, always taking them to a different place. In previous years, the group has traveled to places such as Indiana and Minnesota.

Regardless of the place, the kids and adults return to Sycamore different than when they left.

“To go into an inner-city area and meet people of other backgrounds, it changes them,” Blaser said. “It changes their hearts.”

Getting to know children who had a difficult upbringing but still beamed with positivity was an amazing experience, said 16-year-old Jackie Cole.

Cole, also of Sycamore, worked at the Mareda Center, a place that hosted a daycare center where adults could earn their GED diploma. She ran educational activities, lunch and prayer for a group of about eight second- and third-grade students.

Two second-graders left the biggest impression on her. She can only hope the feeling was mutual.

“I'm hoping they were inspired to grow up and be the best they can be because they deserve it,” Cole said.

The trip also instilled her with a deeper understanding of her faith that she plans to spread throughout her own community.

“We are blessed,” Cole said. “It makes you realize you can do anything through God's love.”

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