Teens share the impact of their mission to the Texas border
A team led by Catholic Charities of West Tennessee (CCWTN) made a week-long mission in July to the Humanitarian Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV), which is a first stop for people who have crossed the Texas border into the United States and have been processed and released by U.S. officials.
The center provides a place for countless men, women, children and infants to rest, have a warm meal, a shower, and change into clean clothing, as well as receive medicine and other supplies, before continuing on their journey. CCWTN made the trip at the request of Catholic Charities USA and with the approval of our Bishop, His Excellency, the most Rev. Martin D. Holley, D.D. The Memphis team included Catholic Charities staff, Catholic community leaders and local Catholic high school students. Here are first-person accounts of the trip from the teens.
Alexa Pangonas, St. Benedict at Auburndale High School, Class of 2019
The mission trip to McAllen,Texas, with Catholic Charities of West Tennessee was an amazing experience. I learned to work with others and grew my relationship with God with the great people on the trip. My main job for most of the trip was to help organize the Humanitarian Respite Center. God gave me special abilities, and I used them to the fullest. Every day at the center was a new and exciting day. The families that we helped all had smiles and were very grateful for everything we gave them, such as food, clothes, and access to showers.
My most memorable moment was when we went to Mass at The Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle and the priest said during his homily, “From the words of Mother Teresa: We are not all called to be successful, but to be faithful.” This quote spoke to me through the rest of the trip. I am very grateful for the opportunity!
Madelynn Fay, St. Agnes Academy, Class of 2020
When we arrived in McAllen, Texas, the first place we went from the airport was the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. All of us were talking on our way to the center, but once we returned to the car we were very quiet. I believe we were quiet because what we saw was so humbling. There were so many people (about 250) who needed help from the four employees and the volunteers. I almost felt as if we were in the way when we arrived because of the amount of people in the center, but that feeling changed the next day when we started working. I began working with the kids, and it brought me so much joy because every one of them was happy.
The following two days I helped organize the clothing and food donations. I was amazed at the amount of donations people brought in to the center. I also helped manage the waiting rooms for the women’s showers, providing aid to mothers and their children and to the daughters who only came with their fathers. This job was my favorite of the entire mission trip because I was rewarded with graces from God and relationships with people I will, sadly, never see again, as they embark on their journey to a new life in the United States. Serving other people while representing my school, St. Agnes Academy, and my church, Holy Rosary, has been the most humbling and rewarding experience in my life.
Olivia Stonecipher, Immaculate Conception High School, Class of 2019
Before my trip to the Humanitarian Respite Center, I thought of immigration as not an extremely complex process. I believed that families applied for visas and were either approved or denied. On my first day in McAllen, Texas, we stopped in at the center for a quick tour and orientation. When I walked into the building for the first time, I stood in shock as I saw some 100 families in a less than 1,000-square-foot building. But my biggest surprise came when the families clapped for us and said the words, “Bienvenidos familia,” which means “Welcome family.”
We spent a week helping at the center by organizing donations, doing general cleaning and playing with the many children. During this week, I had the honor of talking to many families and learning of their hardships, which still have not left my thoughts. The full story is impossible to grasp until you see it firsthand. I am so happy I got to represent my school and parish, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and I wish everyone could have the experience I had at the border.
Grayson Clothier, Christian Brothers High School, Class of 2020
I was extremely grateful to learn I had been chosen to participate on the mission trip to Texas with Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. We walked blindly into the situation because we had no idea what we would be doing until we got there. When we arrived, I was told our job was to underscore human dignity. We spent the week giving the men, women and children food and water, as well as access to showers and clothing.
When the parents were being processed by the center staff, the teenagers on the trip spent our time playing with kids or doing our best to hold conversations in Spanish. We were definitely put to the test in our ability to speak and understand Spanish, but once you figured out that you were able to hold a conversation, it really made you feel good inside. You knew that you had reached out to bridge the language gap and connect with another human being whom you would never otherwise have met. I would like to thank former Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, all the staff of Christian Brothers High School and CBHS Principal Chris Fay for this great opportunity; I would be honored to be selected again in the future.