August 07, 2013 - Carly Ahonen spent a week this summer with some very special people who may not remember her, but whom she will not soon forget.
Ahonen, 17 and about to enter her senior year at Brandon High School, traveled from June 16-21 to Cincinnati with 30 other volunteers from St. Anne Church as part of a mission trip with the Catholic Heart Work Camp.
The volunteers, joined by missionaries from five other parishes, were put in groups and assigned to various jobs around the city. Ahonen and her group worked at Burlington House, a center for Alzheimer's patients.
In the course of "hanging out with a bunch of cool old people all day," Ahonen and her fellow volunteers danced, read to and played games with their new elderly friends, shared meals and conversations, and offered companionship.
"A lot of them don't have visitors or family," said Ahonen. "It was a really good experience, meeting a lot of new people and helping out makes you feel better, like you're giving something back to the world."
She notes that the patients she met all seemed very happy with their lives and what they had accomplished. One 94-year-old man shared with her about how he worked on ships during World War II, rescuing other ships so they could continue fighting. Ahonen was also touched by the devotion of a husband who came to visit his wife at the center every day.
"They were adorable," she said. "It showed to me that true love exists. I have learned to live each day better, because you don't know how much time you have. I think our visit meant a lot— they told us how thankful they were and gave us hugs. I didn't want to leave."
Lauryn Jeffrey, 17, also went on the mission trip, but worked at the Michaela Farm, a historic farm of the Sisters of St. Francis.
Jeffrey helped prepare for a barn party fundraiser by cleaning out the barn, pulling weeds, moving bales of hay and other items, sweeping and setting up tables and chairs.
"These farms all grow organically tomatoes, rhubarb, squash, cabbage—almost anything you can think of besides corn," she explained. "They barter and have a place where you can go and get anything you need. Most of it feeds the nuns at the Motherhouse."
This was Jeffrey's first mission trip and she called it "really fun."
Other youth and adults on the mission trip were assigned at jobs including painting and yard work for low-income residents, building a bridge at a park, packaging supplies for humanitarian relief organizations and removing invasive species for a watershed project.
Kim Zrnec, St. Anne Youth Minister, assisted children who are disabled at a summer camp with crafts, swimming, fishing, and cooking. Many of the children were autistic or have Down's Syndrome and Zrnec said she learned a lot about how they communicate and what makes them happy.
"You fall in love with the kids and learn to communicate with them in their way," she said.
After work each day, the volunteers would return to their base at a high school to participate in "faith-filled programs."
"It was probably one of my favorite mission trips, between the mix of youth and adults among the parishes," said Zrnec.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville