Motor City Mission brings suburban kids to the city for a week of service in the sun

Young participants in the annual Motor City Mission Trip take a break from gardening work for the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance on Detroit's east side on Monday, June 24. The annual service opportunity, made up of youths from nine different parishes in Oakland County, completed services projects in Detroit, Flint and Royal Oak this week. (Photos by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Nine parishes, 80 young people take part in annual summer service program, working in Flint, Detroit, Royal Oak neighborhoods

DETROIT — Eighty middle and high school students from the northwest corner of the Archdiocese of Detroit paused their summer vacation to volunteer in local urban communities.

The Motor City Mission Trip is an annual summer program for parishes in northern Oakland Country in which, for three days, youngsters in technicolor t-shirts paint benches, work in gardens, organize food pantries and volunteer in soup kitchens across Detroit, Flint and Royal Oak.

This year's mission trip was the seventh year since students have begun participating as part of their summer break.

“Back in 2018, we were a small group of about 28 people, including adults and children, who decided to create something called the Motor City Mission Trip, and it’s taken off from there,” Julie Cavanaugh, family ministry coordinator at St. Patrick Parish in White Lake, told Detroit Catholic. “We have high school and middle school students, showing them the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We figured we didn’t have to go overseas to do that, because have a lot of need right here in Detroit and Flint.”

The Motor City Mission Trip started in 2018 as a way for youth from Oakland Country to spend part of their summer serving those less fortunate than themselves. This year's service project included sorting clothes at the Capuchin Services Center on Medbury Street in Detroit.
The Motor City Mission Trip started in 2018 as a way for youth from Oakland Country to spend part of their summer serving those less fortunate than themselves. This year's service project included sorting clothes at the Capuchin Services Center on Medbury Street in Detroit.

Youths from St. Patrick Parish, St. William in Walled Lake, St. Mary Our Lady of the Snows in Milford, the Church of the Holy Spirit in Highland, St. Daniel in Clarkston, St. Anne in Ortonville, Our Lady of the Lakes in Waterford, Our Lady of Refuge in Orchard Lake and Holy Family in Novi participated, starting the week on Monday in Detroit, serving at the Capuchin Service Center, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Center for the Works of Mercy, Vocies4Earth Hope House and Garden, Core City Neighborhood and the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance.

On Tuesday, the group headed to Flint to serve at the Center for Hope, the North End Soup Kitchen, Carriage Town Ministries and the Mid-Michigan Resource Warehouse.

The following day, the group went on a pilgrimage at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, where they packed kits for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Camp Ozanam in Port Sanilac.

“What I think is so formative is they can give up a week of their summer to get up early and do a little work, and it can be a lot of fun,” Cavanaugh said. “They made new friendships with people coming from many different churches and different schools, just bonding over serving at soup kitchens and the car ride down to Detroit. I just see the friendships born out of this.”

Vivian Barton of St. Mary Our Lady of the Snows has completed three Motor City Missions, saying it’s always a good time to travel outside her usual social circle and help out a community in need.
Vivian Barton of St. Mary Our Lady of the Snows has completed three Motor City Missions, saying it’s always a good time to travel outside her usual social circle and help out a community in need.

Vivian Barton of St. Mary Our Lady of the Snows has completed three Motor City Mission Trips, saying it’s good to travel outside her usual social circle and help a community in need.

“It’s always a good opportunity to see what is happening in the world,” Barton said. “I don’t have much social media, so days like today are a way to see more of the world, see how other people live. This allows me to help out in a community that I love and want to help out forever. It’s just super rewarding, one of my favorite parts of summer.”

Barton was part of a group organizing the backroom of the Capuchin Services Center on Medbury Street in Detroit, sorting clothing and food items, stocking shelves and racks for Detroiters in need to shop.

With her past Motor City Mission Trip experience, Barton showed her leadership skills by explaining to first-timers what to expect.

“Days like today are super enriching; you get to see other people and what they are going through and you get to help a little,” Barton said. “It’s also something you get to put on your resume, but that’s one of the less important parts. For me, it’s extremely rewarding to work with other people and work for other people.”

Motor City Missionaries work on a garden in lot next to the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance properties on McClellan Street on Detroit's east side.
Motor City Missionaries work on a garden in lot next to the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance properties on McClellan Street on Detroit's east side.

Further to the east, Motor City Mission Trip volunteers served at the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, planting shrubs, spreading mulch, and painting benches in an empty lot-turned-public park on McClellan Street that has become a public space for the Gratiot Woods Neighborhood on the city’s east side.

“We are doing a neighborhood beautification project as a way to provide a public space for the public to passively enjoy these summer days,” said Cleophus Bradley, director of community development for the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance. “Projects like this add to the community buy-in. When people see this space, they want to take pride in their community, they want to take ownership in their community. What we are doing today is beautifying the neighborhood and adding to the market value of home ownership in the area.”

The Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance primarily works in affordable housing and had originally designed to build townhomes on the empty lot it acquired from the city five years ago.

Motor City Missionaries water a garden and enjoy some popsicles on Detroit's east side on June 24. The mission served in Detroit, Flint and Royal Oak, June 24-26.
Motor City Missionaries water a garden and enjoy some popsicles on Detroit's east side on June 24. The mission served in Detroit, Flint and Royal Oak, June 24-26.

But rising building costs have made building townhouses on the property economically unfeasible for now, so the public greenspace is a way to improve the quality of life in the area and encourage more people to invest in the neighborhood, Bradley explained.

“We are all about providing decent, affordable housing for all Detroiters; that’s our primary mission,” Bradley said. “This park encourages someone to make this a neighborhood of choice, and that’s our mission.”

This year’s mission was the first for Evan Freundel of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Waterford, who enjoyed his time gardening at the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance lot.

“I wasn’t expecting all the work we were going to do, but I like the physical and helping people,” Freundel said. “Everyone in my youth group was going on the trip, so I wanted to go. My favorite thing was planting flowers in the middle of the field. I don’t get a lot of chances to garden, so this was pretty much my first time doing it.”

“I want them to see God in others,” Cavanaugh said. “I want them to be able to see God in every day when they see the people they are serving. When we are in the clothing area of the Capuchin Services Center, where people are shopping, we are meeting the people those places serve, and I think that is the best value to a week like this: to come in with the poor and see God in them.”
“I want them to see God in others,” Cavanaugh said. “I want them to be able to see God in every day when they see the people they are serving. When we are in the clothing area of the Capuchin Services Center, where people are shopping, we are meeting the people those places serve, and I think that is the best value to a week like this: to come in with the poor and see God in them.”

The missionaries will finish their week on Thursday with a trip down south to Kalahari Waterpark in Sandusky, Ohio, a chance to unwind after a week of volunteering.

While the week of service is a shot in the arm for the various ministries served, Cavanaugh thinks the experience will have a bigger impact on the missionaries themselves.

“I want them to see God in others,” Cavanaugh said. “I want them to be able to see God in every day when they see the people they are serving. When we are in the clothing area of the Capuchin Services Center, where people are shopping, we are meeting the people those places serve, and I think that is the best value to a week like this: to come in with the poor and see God in them.”



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