I have fond memories of going on retreat as a teen. My school would schedule several trips throughout the school year to a monastery a few hours’ drive from my home. The retreats were a way for us to get away for a few days to the quiet of the monastery. I enjoyed getting up for the early for the morning mass. We cooked as a group. Ate meals together. But, I did not have to any huge sacrifices. I loved staying in the monastery dorms, but my sacrifice was minimal.
Recently, my Teen and I had a chance to offer up our services to a group that was in need. My teen is in the process of working towards her confirmation at church. She is required to go on a retreat and participate in several acts of service. Most of the acts involve visiting a museum or going to a religious monument. One of the required acts is local soup kitchen.
One Sunday morning — in fact it was Fathers’ Day — my teen and I drove to the church. We met up with 5 other teens. I was the chaperone-driver for our group. The drive was longish. The teens were largely silent. A few snoozed. One listened to her ipod. As we neared the city, the mood in the car changed. The kids were still silent, but each was staring intently at the broken down homes and boarded up stores. The landscape was not like our homes, that is for sure.
I quickly found a parking spot. As we entered the modern building housing the soup kitchen and a variety of other services for homeless, displaced, and the working poor, the teens were eager to get to work.
And work we did. After a lengthy orientation, we set to work. For a solid 2-hour period, men, women, and children streamed in to be fed. My teen was in charge of refilling iced tea for our section. I was the server for our section. Our section was special in that only families with a parent and a child or two parents and a child could sit at the tables in our section.
My heart could not help but break at the grandmother wrangling a pair of toddler grandchildren. Neither child was hungry. I did my best to find food that the kids would eat and I gave her some Ziploc bags to take the food with her. The surly teenager who politely said no, thank you when asked if he wanted a meal got a look from his mother. I’ve given my children the same look. But, never about eating or not eating a meal in a soup kitchen.
It was a sobering day for me. I glanced over at my teen and her friends from church. I was proud to see all of them literally rolling up their sleeves and giving of themselves to the staff and of course, the patrons of the soup kitchen that Fathers’ Day. I was honored to not only be able to help out a worthy cause — Our Daily Bread in Baltimore, MD — but to be able to watch a group of teens do the same.
I am participating in VolunteerSpot’s Summer of Service series! VolunteerSpot is a time-saving website that makes it easy to organize parents and volunteers with free online sign up sheets. Use it to coordinate almost anything – classroom helpers and parties, school carnivals and fundraisers, swim team and soccer snacks, service projects, neighborhood events, and more!