JWalkers mission trip sends 29 kids to Texas

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Twenty-seven youths from Prairie du Chien and two from Mosinee traveled with seven adults to Port Aransas, Texas, as part of the Holy Family Parish JWalkers’ annual mission trip. They helped 15 homeowners continue to clean up and remodel still 10 months after Hurricane Harvey. (Submitted photos)

Some of the JWalkers fill a homeowner's back yard to level it, during their recent mission trip to Texas.

By Correne Martin

Hard work, compassion, community donations and prayers once again came together to make another Prairie du Chien JWalkers mission trip possible. The teenage group of 29 kids, including two from Mosinee, traveled 22 hours by bus to Corpus Christi, Texas. They spent a week in early June helping 15 homeowners who remain impacted by Hurricane Harvey devastation 10 months later.

Guided by their fearless leader, Mary Stoeffler, Father Jim Weighner and five local chaperones connected to Holy Family Parish, the high school students rode 40 miles every day from Corpus Christi to Port Aransas, Texas. 

“The town is literally 7 miles long by 3 miles wide,” Stoeffler pointed out about the Fishing Capital of Texas. “They already got (government) funding, yet so many of the people are still in really rough situations.”

JWalkers volunteer, Lauren Kennedy, told a Texas news station the aftermath lasts so much longer than the help does.

According to Stoeffler, the JWalkers worked with the chamber of commerce in Texas to find homeowners in need and line up a contracting company to work alongside.

The youth got their hands dirty, doing demolition, landscaping, painting, installing windows and floors, shingling and general cleaning. This was all in 100 degree heat and 95 percent humidity too, Stoeffler said. Thankfully, all returned home safe.

At the end of each day, the group gathered for Mass with Father as well as “talk time.” Each student was encouraged to share their emotions and experiences of the day. She said all of the teens saw the sincere needs of the residents in a non-judgemental way, and many of them felt “helpless that they couldn’t do more.”

“The homeowners were so appreciative, and that really hit the kids. It’s difficult to see the needs of others and see that they aren’t exactly being met,” Stoeffler said. “Hearing these kids speak from the heart and how they were each affected by these people was heart warming and inspiring. This trip was unique in that we had such a great bond with the homeowners.”

She added that some of the citizens bought ice cream for the JWalkers, a local fisherman took them on his boat to see dolphins and they were welcomed and treasured by the local church parishioners.

“One night, as we were walking back from church, the people were all honking at us. It was a wonderful moment,” Stoeffler shared. 

Seeing the kids work hard all week, knowing that they made a difference in the homeowners’ lives, was priceless for the adults leading them. Father also instilled in the youth the importance of keeping the gift of service, even when they got home.

On their way home, the JWalkers were treated to a stop in San Antonio to see the Alamo. 

This trip was the first time Holy Family Parish branched out on its own for a mission, with the La Crosse Diocese’s blessing. Stoeffler felt it was successful and intends to grow the parish’s own mission trip for the future. 

Before they start thinking about next summer’s plans, Stoeffler herself has the opportunity to be back in Port Aransas, July 6-14, with the diocese mission trip. She gets to help complete some of the work the JWalkers started in June and she’s thrilled about getting to share details with her young friends when she gets back to Prairie du Chien.

She and the mission group will present their experiences to those who made their trip possible during an Aug. 5 banquet at St. John’s Hall. At 4 p.m., there will be a meal for donors and family. Then, at 5 p.m., they will show a video and talk about their journey. 

Youth partaking in this Texas mission included Mikayla Ames, Hailey Bedward, Adam Chase, Gracie Colson, Maddie Gerhards, Brandon Hanger, Preston Hendrix, Kendall Hill, Jenna Holler, Renae Irvin, Karly Jaynes, McKenna Keeney, Lauren Kennedy, Kennedy Kirschbaum, Peggy Koresh, Zach Mara, Lindsey Nicholson, Alexis Nolan, Caitlin Nolan, Jerrod Osterkamp, Mackenzie Pettit, Kierstyn Rogers, Macy Sander, Tyler Selenske, Jackson Swita, Gabby Toberman, Kylee Weber and Katy Welsch. This was the third trip for eight of these kids.

Adults joining were Stoeffler, Fr. Weighner, John Hendrix, Alex Osterkamp, Sarah Holler, Misty Rogers and Claire Stoeffler. 

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