Twenty Helias Catholic High School students went to Kansas City last weekend for a mission trip. They returned with a brand new perspective.
The teenagers worked with Operation Uplift, the Franciscans of the Poor of Jesus Christ, the Redemptorist parish, Harvesters and Jerusalem Farm. Much of their time was spent serving the homeless community of Kansas City.
Students rode in vans or walked to campsites to give out food and supplies and have conversations with homeless people.
For many of the teens, it was the first time they’d spoken at length with a homeless person.
In talking with them, senior Harrison Miller said he realized they were not so different from him.
“They were just in a bad situation,” he said.
Students also visited Jerusalem Farms, a community based on Catholic social teaching. Community members maintain a garden and focus on sustainable living and spirituality. They help people in higher-poverty areas grow their own food and share the gospel with them.
Students helped them prepare their gardens for spring while learning about their community and conservation techniques, like rainwater collection and composting.
They attended Mass at the Redemptorist parish in the city and helped around the grounds. They also served 600-700 families in a drive-thru food pantry.
Senior Tyler Sandbothe said they saw a “wide territory and a wide variety of people.”
“It really showed that anybody can be homeless, basically, from veterans, to mentally-ill people, to people that just lost their jobs that are just looking for a meal,” he said. “It showed that it could happen to anybody.”
The students shared some of the eye-opening and impactful moments they experienced on the trip.
Miller said he was struck by the areas that homeless people were — places you might never even notice, like an area under an overpass. It speaks to how they are sometimes isolated or ostracized from society, he said.
“You’d have to go searching for them, but what you found, when you searched for them, you’d notice that they were just people like us,” he said. In many ways, he said, they were more compassionate and caring toward the people around them than most people are.
Senior Sydni Stratman said she was struck by how thankful everyone was. As people who had few possessions, they were more thankful than most people.
Senior Chase Kempker admired the dignity of those they met, despite their difficult circumstances.
Cora Tharp said it made her take stock of her own life and realize she should be grateful rather than complaining about her circumstances.
Michael Sanner appreciated seeing the unity and camaraderie of the homeless community. Many people they met were in groups or couples and would help others in their group get what they needed.
Helias students split into groups and worked with Uplift drivers to bring people whatever they might need, be it food, clothing, bandages, or just a friendly smile and a willingness to listen.
Miller recounted the story of a Sister they worked with who had learned sign language so she could communicate with a man who couldn’t speak. The man was “one of the happiest people” Miller saw that weekend. Sandbothe said it illustrated the importance of building relationships.
Chase Kempker said he enjoyed one encounter with a homeless man who was singing about God and asked the students to pray with him.
Teachers Zach Rockers and Molly Light said they were amazed to get to watch the students’ kindness at work.
“They were never hiding out if the task was finished. It was like they were actively seeking, what can I do next, who can I help?” Light said of the students.
Rockers said the trip is meant to help students’ faith come alive, helping their faith move, “from your head to your heart to your sleeves.”
Sandbothe and Sanner had been on the mission trip previously and said they would highly recommend it to other students.
Sanner said he met underclassmen he might never have interacted with, and he’s built lasting relationships with them.
Sandbothe said it helped him think about, “what can I do for the people around me, and not just focusing on yourself.”
Sandbothe said he hopes students will consider going on the trip next time around.
“It’s not a thing to be scared of, and it’s not a thing to be afraid of,” he said “It’s that, once you do it, it just changes your life.”