Chat Tuesday – Pam Heil, Youth Minister at St. Brigid of Kildare

Pam Heil, Youth Minister at Saint Brigid of Kildare, is one of the organizers for Gospel Road, July 10-14 2011. Gospel Road is a five-day mission trip that gives teens the opportunity to live the Gospel of love while learning practical skills such as painting or landscaping. This year’s Gospel Road will be based in Columbus.  Many thanks to Pam for taking the time to answer our questions about Gospel Road!

FF: Why would teens want to participate?

PH: If you ask my Gospel Road veterans, the first response would be because it is fun. Working on hot July days, cleaning, hauling, sweating…fun.  It is though, because we are doing God’s work with servant hearts. I think the most exciting thing about Gospel Road is that any time teens help someone else and have the hands-on experience of serving others, they realize that they can make a difference. They begin to believe they can help others, and when they help others, they come to understand how good and gifted they are.

Our kids come from all over the Diocese, from New Philadelphia and Dover to Sugar Grove, Circleville, Danville, and Portsmouth. One of the things I like doing work with others in parish, Diocesan and national ministry is that the faith family grows, and this is so awesome for kids. There is a lot of bonding that occurs during the week because they’re working, praying, and playing together. For some who don’t have parish youth ministry, Gospel Road is their first experience of shared faith in action. Friendships forms are so strong, that it’s not unusual for kids to room together in college because they first met at Gospel Road.

It’s a life-changing week.

FF:  Is Gospel Road all work?

PH: Gospel Road is a combination of great free time, great work, and great bonding. We start the week on Sunday with orientation and dinner and this year, for the first time, we will have a guest speaker – Olympic skier Rebecca Dussault – courtesy of St. Paul parish.

One night we go to Zoombezi Bay to have a picnic and some cooling off and, another night we have reconciliation, liturgy and Eucharistic Adoration. Every night has something, and we end the week on Thursday night with a dinner with the homeowners and agency directors during which we do a slide show commemorating the week’s accomplishments.

FF: How did you get involved in Gospel Road?

PH: I’ve been involved with Gospel Road since before it came to the Diocese of Columbus, which was probably 25 years ago. At one point there was an 8-10-year lapse during which time I did mission trips with Catholic Heart Camp.

My own children all did Gospel Road every year of high school. They have put in ceiling fans, have fixed toilets, laid floors, and put in windows on their own because of their experiences!  It is a great opportunity to learn skill which will help our young future homeowners.

FF: Who makes GR happen?

PH: It’s a parish-driven, Diocesan-supported event.

Whoever is hosting is in charge. This year Bishop Watterson is hosting. Beth Simmonds is the campus minister at Bishop Watterson, and I’m helping out since I’ve been doing mission trips for about a million years! Alice Horwat, the secretary at Saint Paul’s, is handling all of the paperwork. Mike Hall and Sean Robinson of the Diocese Office of Young Adult and Youth Ministry are supporting the event.

FF: Is GR always in Columbus?

PH: It started initially in Kentucky but since it came into our Diocese it has been in Portsmouth, Circleville, New Philadelphia and Dover.

FF: Why Columbus? Aren’t there other places that are more impoverished?

There are needy people all over the world, but there’s something to be said for noticing the people right around you that need help. There are many people who need help because of age, illness or finances or even someone whose spouse is deployed. Helping those near us can help each of us realize that we are called to bloom where we are planted.

FF: Tell us about all of the people involved in GR.

PH: We’re in the process right now of not only accepting registrations from teens – we’re expecting 250 — but we’re also finding out who needs help. We will have a 1:6 adult to kid ratio. Each work crew needs an adult in charge of the teenagers. It’s huge people power of teens and adults working together.

We also must have adults to supervise the teenagers at the work sites and at Bishop Watterson for the sleepovers. This will be my first Gospel Road with air conditioning! So if an adult would like to participate but cannot volunteer during the day, that person can volunteer in the evening and overnight. All adult volunteers must have attended a Protecting God’s Children seminar and their fingerprints should be on file. There will be a special session at St. Paul’s to train people who would like to help but have not attended a PGC seminar prior to the event.

We also need contractors and skilled workers who can help in various specific situations such as putting in a new window or who can serve as work scope assessors between now and July. If you’re handy but you’re not available the week of July 10-14, then maybe you can be a work scope assessor that evaluates the work needed by someone who has requested assistance. It’s important to match the skill set of the evaluator to the needs of the person requesting assistance.

So if someone needs some painting done, we try to send in a painter to assess things. A professional can quickly assess: Are the walls ready? Do the walls need prep work like scraping and priming? How many ladders? How many coats of paint, and how much will that require?

If someone is in need of building and fixing things that requires woodwork, we try to find a carpenter.

If someone needs landscaping help, then we would find someone with landscaping expertise to go out and assess the needs.

We need people with the skills to volunteer to oversee the sites. Kids will follow directions. If we say we’re going to do a job during Gospel Road, then the job’s got to look good and be sound when we’re done. The more handy people we can draw from during that week, the more we can do to help those who need us.

FF: How do you prepare teens for the week?

PH: It’s easier to see that they’re helping someone in an impoverished area than, say, in the suburbs, so when we do our orientation on Sunday night we make sure the kids know there are all different kinds of needs, some more obvious than others. As an example, we’ve had situations like a little old lady who needs help with projects around the house and the kids take care of everything while the old lady’s 40-year-old son sits drinking a beer and watching TV. The lady is  so grateful to the teens for doing so much to help, and the teens cannot be judgmental and must realize that she is not going to get help from her alcoholic son. Widows, and single mothers can benefit from our support along with those who are elderly, blind, or physically challenged.

We also prepare teens that Sunday about basic safety rules and work group responsibilities along with basic skill sets, like how to paint, etc.

FF: How do you pay for the equipment?

PH: Each teen pays $150 to participate. When we get donations of food or supplies, it makes the teens’ contributions stretch. We can also use help from various parish groups. For example, St. Brigid is serving dinner on Sunday night. St. Mary’s is serving breakfast on Monday. Organizations or church committees can help put together lunch bags. All of these contributions allow us to have more expensive work sites. Some of those in need of help might be able to provide some of the supplies and that all helps to stretch our resources.

FF: How are you getting the word out? How can people get involved?

PH: Bishop Watterson is putting the word out, and we have put announcements in church bulletins. We’re working through the youth ministers of the diocese and the campus ministers at the high schools to get the word to teens. We’re trying to find the right contact people at each parish that knows the people who can participate whether as helpers or those in need. We’re also working with the social agencies in town such as J.O.I.N., Faith Mission, and Run the Race Club, among others. We’re trying to find the people that know the people!

For those interested in participating or providing assistance for Gospel Road 2011, contact Pam Heil at (614) 718-5832 or