Some Washington Catholic students are counting their blessings after a recent mission trip to Henryville, where they helped residents continue their efforts cleaning up from a March 2 tornado that decimated the community.
“It made me appreciate everything I have and made me closer to God, because you have to have faith and hope in that situation,” said Claire Burch.
That was something the teenagers — members of St. Vincent DePaul Youth Group and Anam Cara — noticed in the people of Henryville, and it inspired them. According to Harley Wegloski, it demonstrated that no matter what the situation, there’s always hope and always someone there to offer a helping hand.
“Everybody was positive and upbeat, even though everything was destroyed,” said Ellie Jarrett.
The youths said everyone was kind and helpful. Megan LaGrange said that widespread attitude among the community’s residents in the face of such misfortune made her realize that she had no right to complain about anything.
The students decided to offer their assistance in Henryville, according to John Buchanan, because they knew about the destruction and that the residents still needed help. He said they wanted to go on a mission trip this year after going on one to Kentucky last year with a group from Loogootee.
Chaperone Tom Tucker contacted the priest at St. Francis Catholic Church in Henryville, who helped facilitate the mission trip on that end. During the June 5-7 mission trip, the students stayed at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany, where they had Mass and reflection time. They showered at the YMCA, and were served breakfast and dinner, and given a sack lunch, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In addition, the people of St. Francis parish fed them a hot lunch.
“Whenever we got there, we moved about 500 cases of donated water to storage,” said Elizabeth Perkins, adding that the first thing they did was view a slide show of the destruction. “It made me feel blessed to have all the things I have, such as simple things like home, people that care for me — and water. Moving all that water showed me just how much everyone lost.”
She said they also raked up scattered debris and painted, mowed, mopped and cleaned windows in a house so the homeowner could move back in soon.
“I dug up a stop sign post buried in the backyard,” Perkins said. “It was twisted in a spiral.”
Wegloski said they also picked up brush and made burn piles as workers cut uprooted and broken trees, and they picked up and stacked bricks from a house that had been knocked down.
“My legs still hurt,” she said with a laugh.
Buchanan said they tried to make it fun by singing as they passed the bricks to be stacked. He said the students also removed a small fence.
“They did a lot of debris pick-up,” Tucker said. “They really worked hard. They made a difference between the time they got there and the time they left.”
Chaperone Peggy Holland also is proud of the WC students.
“Nobody whined and complained,” she said. “They were up early and ready to go.”
Tucker said the youths were tired but felt good about what they accomplished for Henryville residents.
“It felt good to help people who couldn’t help you back,” said Connor Clouse. “It was a very rewarding experience.”
Buchanan said the hardest part of the mission for him was seeing the devastated school.
“The seniors were so close to graduation,” he said. “All the memories in that school were destroyed.”
Yet, in the aftermath of the tornadic destruction, Jarrett and Wegloski said, everyone in the small community came together as Christians. Wegloski said it was nice to see people in a small community similar to Washington come together like those in Henryville did.
Buchanan added that it was nice to see so many cared about strangers. That caring went in both directions — volunteers to Henryville residents and back — according to Holland.
“People were welcoming and friendly and appreciative,” she said. “They were very thankful we were there and very proud of their community. Even though they didn’t have a house to live in anymore, they were telling us all about their community.”
Tucker said a gentleman at St. Francis made rosaries for each of the students in way of thanks.
“They said all the young people helping gave them a sense of hope for the future,” Perkins said.
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