JWalkers mission fulfills needs around home due to COVID

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Peggy Koresh, a member of the JWalkers youth mission group, stains the Fort Fun playground during the organization’s local week of community betterment projects in late June. (Photo by Correne Martin)

The youth group students helped an elderly couple remove an old porch. (Submitted photos)

Helping to remove chinking, cart away the entire flooring, and pull nails and staples on the St. Germain dit Gauthier log cabin restoration project meant plenty of manual labor for the JWalkers.

By Correne Martin

 

The JWalkers youth group from Prairie du Chien typically attends to major disaster missions. But this year, for their ninth annual mission, the coronavirus thwarted such plans, pointing them in a different direction closer to home. 

More than 25 local high school students and a half dozen adult leaders focused their impressive manual labor on their own community’s needs the last full week in June. 

“All in all, it was meant to be,” said Mary Stoeffler, fearless leader of the JWalkers. “This brought some much-needed positivity to our community.”

Among many jobs, one of the largest undertakings for the JWalkers was helping with the restoration of the St. Germain dit Gauthier log cabin on St. Feriole Island. This included removing cement chinking, carting away the entire floor, and pulling nails and staples from the logs. Members of the Prairie du Chien Historical Society were blown away by the work accomplished.

The JWalkers also took on a daylong project where they cleaned, bleached, stained (30 gallon cans) and weeded the Fort Fun playground at the Wacouta Aquatic Park. In doing so, they dealt with carpenter ants and pounded in emerging nails.

“We saw parents bring their toddlers [to the playground], said junior Clare Teynor. “They were full of smiles and thank yous. That meant the world to us.”

The youth spread three truckloads of mulch at the Austin and Justin Nolan Playground at Prairie Catholic School. They moved furniture into the school classrooms and landscaped around the Prairie Catholic day care. They painted the entryway and picnic tables at the school shelter. They also landscaped and trimmed bushes at St. John’s Church rectory. 

They weeded Blackhawk Avenue and the St. Feriole Island Ball Park. They cleaned up garbage and mowed around the riverfront bike path and beach area. 

“[The beach] is such a popular place here in Prairie,” noted senior Kierstyn Rogers. “We heard from people who said they walk by it every day and wish it could be cleaned.”

She said they found many “treasures” on the beach, including an old square medicine bottle, a 1960s beer can perfectly preserved, an entire encampment of chairs and tents full of mud and debris, anchors, a metal tire, a metal pipe and a lot of glass.

Additionally, they assisted an elderly couple by jackhammering, disassembling and removing a porch. 

For fun, they paraded past the windows of residents, bringing them joy, at the Prairie Maison nursing home. 

“It was just the best experience, seeing their smiles. They had little signs for us,” Teynor said. 

They also played volleyball and spent some time in the municipal pool cooling off. 

Stoeffler emphasized that the JWalkers youth aren’t just a group of teens who serve the greater good one week of the year. 

“They lead with their hearts. They share the power they’ve built as a group, thanks to the relationships they’ve made,” she said. 

That power is contagious too, according to Teynor. She said they received several offers from residents wanting to roll up their sleeves and help because they saw the JWalkers volunteering and putting in hard work.

“They said, ‘We want to come help because we see how you show your faith,’” she stated.  “There were a lot of people driving by shouting thank you too.”

Peggy Koresh, a self-proclaimed super senior (2019 graduate), added that people were amazed at the amount of work the group accomplished. 

“People always underestimate us,” she said. “But we do lots of manual labor. A lot of us have been doing this for many years.”

Parent chaperone Misty Lemon-Rogers pointed out that the kids were “so excited to just do something,” especially since many of them hadn’t seen one another since the start of COVID-19 in March. 

“It’s like our annual habit,” Koresh joked. 

Of course, with coronavirus health and safety guidelines, Stoeffler pointed out that the youth wore masks any time they were indoors. However, most of the work was in the outdoors and the volunteers were split into three groups. 

Throughout the weeklong mission, a number of local businesses and organizations generously stepped forward to support the JWalkers. Thanks to Dairy Queen, Culver’s, Hardee’s, Café Hope, the George Family Foundation, the Knights of Columbus, and the Parish Council of Catholic Women, and the cafeteria staff at Prairie Catholic, breakfasts and lunches as well as frozen treats were complimentary. 

“The kids usually prepare all their meals, but because of COVID, they had to be prepared for them this year,” Lemon-Rogers said. 

Community members were gracious as well. In one case, a thankful senior citizen whipped up some brownies and banana bread for the group to enjoy. 

Though the JWalkers’ yearly mission trips have taken them as far as Tennessee, Texas, Florida and South Carolina in recent years, they believe the mission happened as it was meant to be for 2020. Due to travel restrictions from the pandemic, instead of going to Texas again, they set their sights on Prairie du Chien.

“When they’re immersed in other communities where disaster has struck, they get to see people who really need the help,” Stoeffler explained. “Here, we learned a lot of things are missing. A lot of our jobs were cleaning up after people. Hopefully, these kids’ work can serve as an example for people to clean up after themselves.”

Caught in the act of mission work, there wasn’t one student sitting around or complaining about any aspect of the task in front of them. They worked in the scorching heat and dusty, dirty conditions for four 10-hour days.

As with all their mission projects, Stoeffler always leads the youth in expressing what they’re thankful for at the end of each day. Once again this year, she shared, all of them were happy for the chance to give back more than they received. 

This year’s JWalkers mission may have been closer to home than expected. But, like always, they saw a need, and fulfilled it.

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