NEENAH – The neighborhood around St. Margaret Mary Church is getting a bit of a facelift the next couple of days, thanks to a collaboration of the parish and the Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity.
The two are partnering on “Rock the Block,” a venture to improve 22 homes and four businesses, including the St. Margaret Mary rectory, Thursday to Saturday, May 6-8, said Eric Cenjar, Habitat’s director of marketing and communications.
“St. Margaret Mary Parish has gone above and beyond as a partner, and in the way they have welcomed us,” he said. “We are awfully thankful to have them.”
The project fits nicely into the parish’s vision plan, said Ellen Mommaerts, director of discipleship training and family ministry at St. Margaret Mary. “One of our mission goals during our mission planning was to make the parish more essential in the neighborhood. This is one of our outreach efforts where we can make a difference here,” she said.
The vision plan aims to make the parish a place “to encounter Jesus and, under ‘hospitality,’ we want to rekindle the parish as a center for activity and family life,” added Mommaerts.
The parish is looking to establish neighborhood events to bring people together. The Rock the Block neighborhood revitalization program “is a collaborative effort,” she said. “Habitat volunteers do most of the work and we provide space to gather and pray together. Our volunteers are helping coordinate that part.”
Other groups will prepare and serve lunch on the three workdays. The meal will be served at St. Margaret Mary Parish.
Habitat for Humanity is known for building new homes for people in need. Several area parishes, including St. Margaret Mary, have participated in those build projects. “But Rock the Block is different,” Cernjer said. “Rock the Block is an opportunity to affect a large number of families in a short time. We have held them around the area for several years. Most of the work is done outside the homes — roofs, windows, sidewalks, landscaping. It is a way to transform the neighborhood. This will be our 15th Rock the Block program.”
The program was intentionally scaled back this year because of COVID-19, so there will only be a service crew of experienced Habitat volunteers, numbering 20 to 30 people.
Sarah Wylie, outreach coordinator for Habitat’s Rock the Block, turned to St. Margaret Mary this year because the parish has hosted the event in the past. “Sarah and I sat down pre-pandemic to plan the event,” Mommaerts said.
With the support of the pastor and parish committees, plans were being made. Then COVID hit, the state shut down and the scheduled Rock the Block was put on hold. Later plans were revised to allow for social distancing and other COVID restrictions to keep people safe.
The event kicked off Wednesday evening, May 5, with an hour-long prayer walk through the neighborhood. At each stop on the walk,someone posed questions for reflection and sharing.
On Thursday evening, May 6, the parish sponsored an outdoor rosary, with one of the intentions being for the safety of the volunteers. People are welcome to stop at the church anytime during Rock the Block. The church has a perpetual adoration chapel that is always open.
“Ecumenical events like this can be unifying,” Mommaerts said. “It lets us put our best foot forward as Christians; we are taking what we do to the streets. We are all called to be Christ all the time and this is a way to be his hands and feet. It is awesome that we could do this. Our volunteers have been waiting to do something that matters, and this is a way to do something in a safe way as far as COVID is concerned right now.”