West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

Summer with a Side of Service

Community, Kids, Tosans

Teens these days. They’re so, so, so…willing to sacrifice their time and comfort and….gasp...even their cell phones to do something for other people.


Wait…what?! Right now you’re wondering if I’m serious, right? Believe it or not, I am.


Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, more than 50 teens and 15 adult leaders from three Wauwatosa churches gathered in the drizzle at St. Pius XI parish. They loaded gear into a fleet of full-size vans and prepared to drive to Kentucky where they will build and repair homes for some of the poorest people living in the Appalachian Mountains. (Later this summer, other groups will venture to South Dakota and Milwaukee’s inner city to do similar work.)


I have heard about The Appalachian Service Project (ASP) for many years. It seems that every teen or adult that has ever gone on this trip has had nothing but great things to say about the experience. This year, my daughter joined the group, as did WauwatosaNOW’s own blogger, Maddie McLennon.


I find it pretty impressive that so many teens would give up an entire week of their hard-earned summer to work really hard for someone they don’t know and then sleep on an air mattress in an un-air-conditioned facility. Talk about going outside your comfort zone!


Thinking back on my own teen summers, I’m embarrassed to admit that they were largely self-serving, unless my mom finally guilted me into doing something worthwhile. Suffice it to say that I never did anything remotely resembling service to others. I’m pretty proud that my daughter didn’t follow in my footsteps.


As a parent, it seems very strange to be out of touch with my daughter for an entire week. (Cell phones are not allowed on the trip, nor would they likely get reception in such a remote area.) Today, we usually have instant access to our kids wherever they go. The idea that I can’t check in on my daughter is a little unnerving…but also somewhat liberating.


Maybe this experience changes parents as well as teens. Maybe it was time for us to let go a little and see just exactly what our children are capable of doing on their own.


I can’t wait to hear my daughter’s stories and hope that Maddie will also share some with all of us in her next blogpost. If you think of it, say a prayer for safe travels and a meaningful experience for all involved.

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