Rockhurst students experience inner-city life
By Loretta Shea Kline
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY - When Rockhurst High School student Daniel Clark learned about an opportunity to spend a week living at an inner-city Catholic parish and working with neighborhood children, he jumped at the chance.
Loretta Shea Kline/Key photo
Rockhurst High School student Aaron Clevinger and Dorothy Lampkin, a patron of the St. Louis Parish Senior Center, share a laugh as Lampkin instructs Clevinger in a game of cards.
"Jesus didn't hang around the people who had the most," Clark said.
Clark was among 11 Rockhurst students who participated in a new program at the school called Total Ignatian Experience, TIE for short. The program was designed to immerse students in the life and culture of an inner-city community while providing opportunities for service in the spirit of St. Ignatius, the school's patron.
For one week, students and two teachers lived, worked and worshiped at St. Louis Parish, Swope Parkway and 60th Street. The week began with students and their families attending Sunday morning Mass June 13 at St. Louis Church and partaking in a barbecue lunch afterward, and ended with students and families reuniting for Saturday evening Mass June 19.
In between, students from the all-boys, private Catholic school worked and played with children in the parish's summer program, socialized with patrons of the senior center, heard from community leaders such as former Kansas City mayor Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, shopped for the parish food pantry at Harvesters food bank, cleaned out a freezer at the St. James Soup Kitchen, helped prepare and serve dinner at a Catholic Worker house, listened to jazz, ate soul food and more. Each day's activities began and ended with music, Scripture readings, personal stories, journal reflections, discussion of events and prayer, said Rockhurst theology teacher Peg Mulvihill, who along with theology teacher Corey Quinn oversaw activities.
The program was the brainchild of Mulvihill, and was made possible with the assistance of a half dozen Rockhurst faculty. The students, who will all be seniors next year, were selected based on interviews and good standing in terms of service, academics and citizenship.
"My idea was to take them away from their phones, beepers, cars, girlfriends ... to live in community and live and work alongside the poor," Mulvihill said.
The week's activities were planned by Father Don Farnan, pastor of St. Louis Parish, along with members of the parish staff and volunteers. The goal was to combine learning opportunities with service, prayer, fellowship and fun.
"I think the greatest benefit [of the program] is to respond to Jesus' call to follow him," Father Farnan said. "It's one thing to serve, but what does it mean in the Christian context?"
Clark, the student who noted that Jesus sought out the poor, said he hoped to build on the week's experiences in order to one day work with underprivileged children in his own neighborhood in northeast Kansas City. He said some of the same difficulties resulting from poverty that face young people from the area surrounding St. Louis Parish face children from his neighborhood as well.
Unlike Clark, Bob Stokes is from an upper-class neighborhood and never visited the inner city. He said he had a lot of stereotypical notions about the city before spending time there.
Stokes said he expected a kind of urban war zone, and was surprised to find a peaceful setting surrounding the church. He was also struck by the respect people he met showed for each other, and how tight-knit the community seemed.
"In my neighborhood, there is no sense of community," Stokes said. "Everybody is just there."
Andy Gilchrist also noted the closeness of the community when at Mass almost everyone seemed to know a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
"It was the first thing that let me know that this is such a close-knit society," Gilchrist said. "You think of a place where everybody knows your name as out in the country, a small town. But it happens here."
Gilchrist said his experiences at St. Louis Parish and on a mission trip to Mexico taught him that for people who grow up comfortably, it's easy to take God for granted.
"Some people don't feel there is a need for God," he said. "They have everything. Maybe, as far as the next life goes, they (the poor) are a lot luckier than we are. When things come to them, they thank God for them, because it doesn't happen every day."
Gilchrist, who attends St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, said he hopes he will remember the lessons he learned during the week.
"I hope it brings me closer to God, and I think it already has," he said.
Jeff Collins wondered beforehand if people from the inner city would welcome or resent him.
"Everyone has been so nice," Collins said. "They make it easy. Every kid asked if I had a car. They will talk with you for hours and hours. It's like instant friendship with someone you have never met."
One of the community leaders who talked with the Rockhurst students, 5th District Kansas City Councilman Kelvin Simmons, exhorted the boys to help erase misconceptions about the inner city that stand in the way of progress. A shortage of basic services provided by grocery stores, banks, gas stations and other businesses exists in part because of a misconception that doing business in the inner city isn't profitable. But inner-city residents do use those services and must often travel long distances or pay higher prices for them.
"Isn't that interesting, when you think about the basic services that people need and the scarcity that exists?" said Simmons, whose district includes St. Louis Parish.
Simmons told students that inner-city children must also have access to technology such as computers, if they are to succeed in school and the workplace.
"Your views in the future will have to move this city, this state, this country forward," Simmons said. "What will they be?"
Simmons asked students to let others know that their perceptions of the inner city may be different from the reality.
"Is that what you found in your days here?" Simmons asked the boys. "If it is, it was well worth it."