Editor's note: Sugar Grove resident Amy Manion and son Kevin, 16, were among adults and teens from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Naperville who spent a week in Tutwiler, Miss., building two Habitat for Humanity homes. Manion, an Aurora University information services librarian, wrote the following report, reflecting on the trip.
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A group of 18 teens and eight adults from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Naperville recently traveled to Tutwiler, Miss., to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity.
The group of students from seven local high schools -- Benet Academy, Metea Valley, Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley, Oswego East, Waubonsie Valley and West Aurora -- left for the 12-hour drive on June 11 and returned June 18. While in Tutwiler, the group stayed in a Habitat for Humanity home built for volunteer lodging.
The St. Thomas workers helped build two homes during the trip, the 35th and 36th houses sponsored by the West Tallahatchie, Miss., Habitat chapter.
A foreman and professional contractor, who is part of the West Tallahatchie chapter, guided the teens and adults as they installed windows, hung siding, stained woodwork, laid tile and dug pipe trenches.
It was very physical labor, with temperatures around 100 degrees every day. But it was all worth it, especially on Friday when our teens were fortunate enough to witness the completion of home No. 35.
The group participated in the dedication ceremony with the new homeowners. Habitat requires home recipients to help with construction, so volunteers already had met No. 35's buyer when she worked alongside them.
In addition to building homes, the St. Thomas group built relationships with the residents of Tutwiler. A day after they arrived, and each night after their long days of work, volunteers hosted a barbecue for Habitat home residents.
The teens also played with local children; sometimes they stayed outside, but other times played in the gym at the Tutwiler Community Education Center -- to escape the mosquitoes! The favor was returned on Friday evening when the Tutwiler residents served a potluck meal to thank the St. Thomas volunteers.
Tutwiler, on the Mississippi Delta, is one of the most impoverished areas of the nation. The group from St. Thomas learned the area's history during the trip.
Tutwiler claims to be the birthplace of the blues. While waiting for a train there in 1903, W.C. Handy -- who became known as "Father of the Blues" -- claims to have discovered the genre when he heard someone using a knife to play slide guitar and singing about "Goin' where the Southern Cross the Dog." Legendary bluesman Aleck Miller, also known as Sonny Boy Williamson, is buried in Tutwiler. When members of the St. Thomas group visited his gravesite, they saw six harmonicas on his headstone, left as a tribute by blues fans.
The volunteers also viewed landmarks associated with the death of 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till, who was murdered while visiting relatives in the area. His body was prepared at the Tutwiler Funeral Home on Aug. 31, 1955, before being sent back to his mother in Chicago. Till's murder and open-casket funeral are considered to be the sparks that ignited the Civil Rights movement.
The St. Thomas group took a day off from building and traveled to Memphis, Tenn., where they visited Mud Island and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel -- the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The group ended their day with live blues music at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss., co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman.
Group leader was Sherrie Karnezis-Lloyd, a parishioner and religious education instructor at St. Thomas. She had taken a similar mission trip last year to Tutwiler. Her teenage son, Bradon, led the young people in daily prayer, reflection and other faith-sharing activities.
Through mission trips, St. Thomas the Apostle Church gives teens an opportunity to bring Christ to others through works of mercy, love and compassion.
The church sponsors local, national and international mission trips for teens who want to practice servant leadership.
This summer, St. Thomas will send service groups to Aurora, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Nicaragua.