Ellis students lending a helping hand
By RANDY GONZALES
ELLIS -- If you're needing it to rain, just have kids from the Salina Diocese come to town as part of its annual mission trip.
As part of its "Prayer and Action" mission program, since 2006 the diocese has had youth members travel from town to town to help fix up homes in need.
Starting the first week of June, for four weeks first college students, then high school kids have been painting and doing yard work for people in this Ellis County community. They stay a week, then the next group of kids comes in.
Father Gale Hammerschmidt -- a 1990 graduate of Thomas More Prep-Marian High School -- started it all nine summers ago.
"It's just continued to build, summer by summer, since that time," Hammerschmidt said.
Churches have sent young people to other countries to help the needy, but Hammerschmidt thought why not try helping out those closer to home, too.
"I firmly believe that it is life-changing," Hammerschmidt said.
And, by coincidence or through God's providence, rain has been known to accompany the kids from town to town. One cool, overcast morning greeted the kids their first week in Ellis.
"Today's a blessing, that's for sure," Hammerschmidt said. "We'd actually rather have rain than cool weather.
"I'm pretty sure the people of Ellis would prefer the rain over the houses begin painted."
As it so happened, Ellis received almost a foot of rain the first two weeks the workers were in town.
"We pray for it to start raining about an hour after we have left (for the day), and the paint's dried, and then it can stop raining just a few hours before we get started again the next day," Hammerschmidt said. "As we've been to towns, it's amazing how that has worked.
"The people in Oakley, Kansas, I think from the year 2009, swear it's because of our presence there that they had one of the best months of rain that they can remember," he added with a laugh.
The diocese works with a local church -- in this case St. Mary Catholic Church -- to find homes in need of a touchup. The kids can tackle approximately six homes a week, including Kenny Bridgford's house at 101 W. Sixth. Like worker bees, kids were scrambling all over the house and garage -- some on ladders -- all busy painting away.
"I really enjoy just being able to help people," said Katie Hindman, who will be a sophomore at Fort Hays State University in the fall.
Hindman has been on mission trips in the past while going to high school in Osborne, but this was her first time as a college student.
"I love serving people without asking for anything in return," she said.
Brian McCaffrey, Manhattan, was a team leader at the Ellis project. McCaffrey, a University of Kansas student, helped come up with ideas for evening activities after a long day's work. His first summer was in 2008, when the diocese sent youth members to Hays.
"It blew me away," he said. "I went in not knowing what to expect, not expecting a whole lot. I had what I consider one of the best weeks of my life.
"It changed me from that point on. My mom didn't really need to force me anymore to go to youth group, to go to church. It was something I wanted to do."
The people of Ellis appreciate the kids' hard work.
"It is a blessing for Ellis," said Leonard Schoenberger, one of the organizers for St. Mary's. "Not only their painting, but their faith is contagious."