The last week of June, about two-dozen Catholic teens came from places like Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin to learn and serve at VEJ's Hope House & Gardens.
The teens came as participants in two annual Catholic youth service weeks in Detroit: Catholic Heart Work Camp and Young Neighbors in Action.
"Hosting these teens for a week each summer at Hope House & Gardens is one of the highlights of our year," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "It is really special to get to see how they grow as people over the course of the week."
Irwin said it is also a big blessing to VEJ and the Hope Park neighborhood. The teen volunteers get a lot of important work done at Hope House & Gardens while spending a lot of time with neighbors on Greydale Street.
Projects the Catholic Heart and Young Neighbors volunteers got done at Hope House & Gardens this year, included:
Irwin said his favorite part of the week was watching how the teen volunteers included the children who live around Hope House.
"You could see how the neighbor kids and the teens were bonding as they worked together. It was a beautiful thing to witness," said Irwin. "The neighbor kids were learning that love is there for them even from total strangers and the teens were learning how much love they have to give and what a difference it makes."
In addition to working with their hands, the teens also put their hearts and minds to work. VEJ garden leader L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams added classes, demonstrations, meditations, and reflections to the daily schedule.
At the end of the week, teens filled out anonymous surveys about their experience. Comments included things like:
Irwin said that if there was one drawback to the experience, it was that none of the teens who volunteered is likely to return any time soon.
"We can do this with local groups just as well as we can do it with groups from out of state," said Irwin. "We can do this with groups of any age, any education level, any faith background. When we host groups from metro Detroit, it creates opportunities for lasting learning and relationships that can build over time with repetition."
If you would like to come learn and serve at Hope House & Gardens--either on your own or with a group from your club, company, house of worship, or school--please call (313) 355-6052 or email BT Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org.