Wisconsin Community Volunteers in Okolona

Associates Chuck Pankratz and Megan and Kathy Saari (right) re-roofing a shed.

by Associate Kathy Saari

This spring, sisters and associates from the Wisconsin Community of St. Joseph traveled to Okolona, Mississippi, to deliver household goods, linens and other items collected by all of our groups in Green Bay and Oshkosh to Excel Commons Community Center. Members of the Wisconsin community that participated were Sisters Judy Miller and Shawn Madigan, Associates Chuck Pankratz, Alexandra Guliano and Kathy Saari, soon-to-be associate Ginny Laukka, and Kathy’s daughter, Megan Saari. This year’s trip took place a couple of weeks earlier than last year, so we were able to celebrate Palm Sunday and Holy Week there.

We spent a week filled with work, learning, fellowship and community. We had a variety of jobs to do based on our “talents” and interests: staining and sealing a deck, unpacking the donated items brought with us, reupholstering two chairs, washing chairs in anticipation of the Holy Thursday service, re-roofing a shed, painting, landscaping and clearing brush, picking up local donations, and cleaning out and organizing the kitchen at the volunteer lodging. Megan, a high school math teacher, had the opportunity to help with the after-school program as well, working with elementary through high school students.

As always, the days were filled with work, conversation, great food at Mugs on Main, and a lot of laughs. Sister Nancy Schreck gave the new volunteers her wonderful history and a tour of Okolona. It was a privilege to join the congregation for Palm Sunday and the Holy Week services. Most notably, the group consensus was that the Holy Thursday service—celebrated with Excel volunteers, Okolona citizens and other folks—was the highlight of the week. Following the service, we were part of the community potluck dinner. We were honored to join this group to get to know each other and eat delicious food. Truly, Excel Commons is a place where “all are welcome,” and it is a community that truly cares for all.           

But most of all, we appreciated the opportunity to meet and work with Sisters Liz Brown, Nancy and Jean Meyer, the many wonderful citizens of Okolona, and the many volunteers and employees of Excel Commons. We are grateful for their hospitality (and showing us where to get those delicious sweet potatoes and a wonderful catfish dinner).

For more information on the wonderful programs at Excel Commons, go to excelcommons.com.