The March 9 retreat, entitled “Takin’ It to the Streets,” involved a pilgrimage through the city to better understand homelessness. The teens used public transportation to travel to downtown Green Bay. They were given $1.25 to spend on lunch to simulate the challenges people on food assistance programs may face.
“That was hard,” said Marissa Colome, a sophomore at Southwest High School. “There’s not much you can get with $1.25. Some people pooled their money.”
Following a tour of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, the teens walked to Whitney Park where Tony Pichler, co-founder of StreetLights Outreach, shared the mission of the ministry of presence, including a story of a young lady that stuck with Audrie Murphy, a sophomore at Ashwaubenon High School.
“(Pichler and co-founder Deacon Steve Meyer) talked to her one night when they were sitting on the street corner,” explained Murphy. “She told them about everything that has happened in her life. It was hard to hear her story. We don’t think about people out there who have it so hard. We have it so easy in our houses.”
“To hear what (Pichler) had to say was kind of sad,” said Colome. “I didn’t know that we had so many people who didn’t have anything. It was heartbreaking.”
Homelessness is not a topic of discussion at school, said Lexi Eibenholzl, a Southwest classmate.
“You know it happens, but you never really think about how much it happens in your city,” she said. “You think it is in a big city like New York or Chicago.”
The retreat featured a service element. The group packaged personal hygiene items at St. Patrick Food Pantry. Dinner at the NEW Community Shelter put the young people in an uneasy situation.
“When we first walked in, we got a whole bunch of weird stares,” said Murphy.
“I felt awkward and out of place,” said Eibenholzl. “I felt like I didn’t belong. After we sat down and talked with the people, they were open and genuinely happy to have us there.”
Following the retreat, Murphy suggested a food drive, which evolved into the “Birthday Party in a Bag” campaign. Faith formation families were invited to donate.
“This way, all the people who can’t celebrate their birthdays like we do will get that chance,” said Murphy. “This experience really opens your eyes to everything and how many people need help. It makes you think about what is going on outside our own little homes.”
The retreat inspired Colome to do more for people in need.
“I learned that, as an individual, I can actually do something to help,” she said. “I can donate whatever I don’t need to St. Pat’s Pantry. I can go through all my clothing and give it away if I don’t need it. I can do something. I can’t stop it, but I can try.”