By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
While they couldn’t come together physically, more than 120 families from 17 parishes throughout the Diocese of Dallas united in a shared spirit in July, participating in a weeklong service effort by completing a wide range of works of mercy.
“We really wanted families to realize that service work doesn’t have to be a big, grand project,” said Devyn Buschow, director of youth ministry at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Duncanville and part of a team heading up the inaugural Hands From Home 2020 Virtual Service Week July 12-17. “We also wanted families to see how easy it is to live out the Works of Mercy and how important they are to add into your day. We wanted families to work together and to process the work they did, as well as learn more about Corporal Works of Mercy, Spiritual Works of Mercy and Catholic Social Teaching.”
Joining Buschow in heading up the Hands From Home team were a number of youth ministry leaders from other parishes including Jeri Phillips of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Plano; Katie Dell and Michael Ingram, both of St. Jude in Allen; Ojas Inamdar of St. Joseph in Richardson; Evan Swindle of St. Paul the Apostle in Richardson; and Elizabeth Seidemann of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Oak Cliff.
“The idea came about because many of us were sad we had to cancel our annual mission trip or service week due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Buschow, who credited virtual discussions and brainstorm sessions for sparking the idea. “We put out a call for anyone who wanted to help and then we each took a different job to help make it happen.”
Anne E. Keough and Katie Erskine of the diocese’s office of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry helped consult on the effort, which Erskine called inspiring.
“When it became apparent that original service trips and service projects could not take place as planned this summer due to COVID, our ministry leaders could have shrugged and said, ‘Oh well! Hopefully next year.’ But they didn’t,” Erskine said. “Our ministry leaders took a problem, created a solution, and executed the solution not only flawlessly, but beyond their own expectations.”
Erskine said the initiative gained national attention, showing that the diocese’s ministry leaders are “no joke.”
“They are spirit-filled, passionate about serving the vulnerable in our communities and committed to gathering families and providing them with ways they can live their faith in meaningful ways,” she said.
Buschow said the idea behind the Hands From Home 2020 inter-parish service week was to empower teenagers and their families to serve others while socially distancing themselves. Projects, which included both corporal and spiritual works of mercy, ranged from visiting the sick to feeding the hungry to forgiving offenses to making rosaries and prayer cards. Throughout it all, prayer and reflection played a big role.
Peggy Bellinghausen, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, joined her husband Tom and two teenage children, Hannah and Joshua, in participating in the service week, which she said brought the family together in faith while providing a sense of normalcy.
“For the kids, it got them outside of themselves and got them thinking about other people more,” Bellinghausen said. “Also, they were really missing their friends and doing service projects outside the home, so Hands from Home brought some connection and normalcy. It was a good opportunity to spend time with the family, working on projects together.”
With her husband undergoing radiation treatments for cancer, Bellinghausen said the family has been self-isolating during the pandemic, which meant all their projects were home-based.
“We did various prayers, including rosaries and a novena. We made fleece blankets and masks for my mom’s memory care unit and cards for the Color A Smile organization,” she said. “We painted rocks to leave around our neighborhood and did chalk drawing on our sidewalk to thank delivery people and encourage people walking in the neighborhood. Also, the kids cut and burned wood for a memory game to give to Operation Christmas Child.”
Bellinghausen said the family’s participation helped her children see that service doesn’t have to be a big project to make a difference.
“Chalk drawing and prayers can also have a big impact on other people,” she said.
The Hands From Home group set a goal of completing 1,000 projects across the diocese during the week. The Bellinghausens, who completed 35 projects, received the inaugural Anima Christi award for most projects completed by an individual family. The Caritas Award, which noted the parish with most projects for registered families, went to St. Elizabeth of Hungary while St. Joseph in Richardson received the Manus in Mano award for the parish with the most projects per participating families.
In the end, 409 projects had been completed by July 17, prompting a decision to extend the deadline to Aug. 15.
“Our hope is that families have grown to incorporate serving others into their everyday lives – even when they are stuck at home,” Buschow said.