Parishioners at St. Marcelline Parish in Schaumburg think of Memorial Day as Labor Day, and it's no mix-up.
Over the recent holiday weekend, nearly 50 parishioners -- adults and teens -- labored together to construct walls for a new home for a husband and wife in a rural part of Tennessee, who are permanently disabled.
Their combined labor over Memorial Day weekend carried out a ministry at St. Marcelline's that dates back to 1999. For the last 18 years, parish members have taken a week out of their summers to travel to central Appalachia to make homes warmer, safer and drier.
Over the years, St. Marcelline parishioners have worked in several different counties across Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia as part of Appalachian Service Project. The Tennessee-based organization brings thousands of volunteers from around the country to central Appalachia to repair homes for low-income families.
At St. Marcelline's, each of the five working groups consisted of one male adult leader as well as a female adult leader and a mix of six teens. The groups included rookies as well as veterans, who followed detailed blueprints to build walls and used power tools and equipment to get the job done.
"This ministry is unique in that an important component is that the teens and adults work in partnership," says Howard Grossman, the youth minister at the parish, who started the summer mission trip in 1999. "We are open to learning from each other.
Members say that they worked from construction manuals provided by ASP, but much of it was a hands-on and learn-as-you-go experience. They add that the adage of "measure twice and cut once" came up often.
"We teach our adults to understand they do not need to have all the construction answers," Grossman says. "We are blessed with very bright high school students that are very capable of solving problems and learning as they go."
The groups ended up building 27 constructed panels, which will be shipped to Johnson City, Tennessee, in time for those same five working groups -- who arrive in July -- to begin assembling the home.
"Every teen is taught the safe handling and proper use of all power tools, and it becomes an empowering moment," says Paul Jaworoski, 18, of Schaumburg, who will be making his fifth trip to Appalachia this summer as part of the ASP ministry.
"Power tools can be scary to some," he adds, "but once a teen is taught how to properly use one, and given a meaningful task to use it with, they shine."
Jaworoski recently graduated from Schaumburg High School and he will be attending Harper College this fall with the dream of pursuing a career in law enforcement. But the experience of working to provide adequate housing for families in Appalachia has shaped him, he says.
He made his first trip to the region during the summer before his freshman year of high school, when he followed his older sister and was the youngest of all the volunteers. This summer, he is one of the leaders of the group, eloquently describing the ministry and its transformational effects.
"It truly has been a life-changing experience," Jaworoski says. "The people of Appalachia draw me back each summer. The families we serve are some of the most beautiful and down to earth human beings I have ever come to know."
He adds that among church youth groups who sign up to participate, ASP often is referred to as a construction ministry.
"ASP is much more of a relationship ministry," Jaworoski says, "with a little bit of construction on the side."