Girls of Summer blaze trail of service and fun

| July 20, 2011 | 0 Comments

Kristina Beer, left, Kayla O’Keefe, Grace Martin, Julia Prins and Rosa Gomez work on their “kindness reminders” during a Girls of Summer gathering at the Prins home in Prior Lake. The girls are classmates at St. John the Baptist School in Savage. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Julia Prins and seven of her 10-year-old friends gathered recently on the deck of her Prior Lake home on a postcard-perfect summer day.

With the cool waters of Prior Lake lapping at their lakefront property, going for a swim seemed inevitable.

But first, there was important business to take care of. Wearing homemade t-shirts with the words “Girls of Summer” emblazoned on the front, they wrote “kindness reminder” cards pledging favors for their parents and families.

Julia’s card read: “Do the dishes for my mom.”

Her mother, Anja, was impressed.

“Wow. I love it that she’s going to do the dishes,” Anja said. “Actually, she does them a lot.”

Reaching out

This summer, Julia has taken this desire for service beyond just her own family and pulled together a group of friends, most of them her classmates at St. John the Baptist School in Savage, to form the “Girls of Summer.” They gather weekly on Wednesdays during the summer to work on service projects, have fun and eat lunch together.

On this particular day, after doing the kindness reminders, the girls took a brief swim after a lunch of pizza was served by Paula O’Keefe, whose daughter, Kayla, is part of the group. After that, they headed to the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley to drop off a donation of cat toys, blankets and haystacks for the animals at the shelter.

The girls were eager to see the shelter animals that were up for adoption, and they also gathered around a bronze statue of St. Francis in the lobby for a photo. But, make no mistake, their top priority — as it is each Wednesday — is to serve others.

“For me, this is really simple — it’s faith in action,” Anja said. “I want action. I want them to connect [with people who have a need]. Anyone can give money. I want them to do something, and I want to get it in their heads that if you see something that’s not right, do something about it.”

Initially, what wasn’t right for Julia was simply boredom. Last summer, her older brother, Jasper, was involved in a program called Summer Stretch, designed for kids entering seventh through ninth grade and implemented by individual churches of various denominations. St. John the Baptist runs the program, and Jasper participated, leaving his sister and playmate at home once a week.

“I remembered being really bored because I didn’t have anybody to play with,” Julia said. “And so, this year, I decided to invite my friends over [once a week].”

After getting approval from her mom, Julia rallied her friends at the end of the school year to join the group. They met twice in May to plan events and make their T-shirts and flip-flops.

Moms also got involved in the planning, and they now serve as helpers with the crafts, drivers to service projects and lunch chefs. Though this adds to their already-full calendars, they see value in having their daughters be part of the group.

“I think it’s really important for thegirls to continue their friendships outside of school,” said Paula O’Keefe, whose daughter, Kayla, is part of the group. “And, it’s a perfect balance of fun, being creative with the crafts, and being able to help others in need or share with others in need.”

The week after going to the Humane Society, the girls gave school supplies they collected to a Prior Lake woman who is going to Honduras to teach.

At the end of this month, they will be donating books to Maria Keller of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina, a student at Holy Name of Jesus School who is hoping to collect and distribute 1 million books to needy readers by the time she is 18 (a story about Maria and the Read Indeed program appeared in the Aug. 12, 2010 edition of The Catholic Spirit).

The group also has a website:

‘Sun and Service’

The final meeting of the summer — and the grand finale — will take place Aug. 24. The girls will start the day with service at Feed My Starving Children and will come back to the Prins home for a dinner, bonfire and sleepover, thus fulfilling the group’s theme: Sun and Service. Though they put forth an earnest effort, the girls and moms do not see it as work.

“It’s fun,” said Peg Voxland, whose daughter, Leah, participates. “Leah loves it. All the kids love it. We keep coming back week after week. We can’t get enough. It’s so much fun.”

It seems that others in the parish are taking notice. Paula O’Keefe recalled some positive feedback she got recently.

“I talked to another mom at church and she said she might have to do this same idea for her two girls,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Said Anja: “I hope other people pick it up. I hear people are picking it up and that’s great. It’s a small thing to do — just open your house.”

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