By Daniel Charland
SHERRILL — On April 27, amid an unexpected spring snowfall, the Archdiocese of Dubuque held its annual retreat for evangelizing persons with disabilities at Albrecht Acres in Sherrill. This event has taken place for over 40 years, with three generations of volunteers helping to provide an enjoyable community experience for people with a wide range of disabilities, both physical and mental.
The retreat has seen a large amount of success and growth over the years, with many participants greatly looking forward to it every year and some not even being able to remember a year where they didn’t participate. Two such participants with disabilities are Gidget Maas and Shelley Mantarnech who said that they really enjoy the activities, mainly consisting of crafts — which are done after various speakers throughout the day — and a dance later in the day. Maas emphasized that drawing was her favorite thing, particularly drawing things that reminded her of spring.
It’s not only the participants with disabilities who benefit from the event, however, as both family members and volunteers have reaped satisfaction and valuable personal connections from their involvement.
Dawn Brosius is one such parent and has attended with both of her disabled daughters for eight years. The bond that they have with the event community is so strong that she considers several of the friends her children have made as unofficial adopted daughters.
Each year has a theme, and this year’s was “Colors of Faith,” which used colors as a simple image to convey lessons about the life of Jesus and living virtues.
Examples included yellow representing joy and Easter, red representing danger and the Crucifixion, and green representing new life and Jesus’ birth. The green talk was given by volunteer Hannah Thill who is also on the craft committee.
When asked why she chooses to help
at these events, she said that it’s enjoyable lending a hand to this kind of community.
“I enjoy coming because of the people and meeting them because they are all sorts of special in their own different ways and they just bring more joy and happiness to everyone,” she said.
Of course, one of the primary focuses is the evangelization aspect of the event. As the master of ceremonies, Deacon Steve MacDonald has long played a large role in it. He said that the Archdiocese of Dubuque was one of the very first to create an office focused on disability and inclusion, stating that the Albrecht Acres event is just one of several hosted in cities like Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, as well as a religious education program at Hills and Dales.
Deacon MacDonald believes in the importance of teaching the faith to the disabled and identifying with them, saying, “We are the only Bible some of them will ever know. It’s not us putting on a rite for them; it’s all of us as one, the love of God together.”
As the attendance at such events for those with disabilities has only grown over the years, they are fully expected to continue far into the future.
The retreat was organizationed by the Office of Persons with Disabilities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. For more information on the programs available, please call 563-556-2580 ext. 297 or email DBQCPWD@dbqarch.org.
Participants and volunteers at the retreat for persons with disabilities held April 27 at Albrecht Acres in Sherrill eat lunch together. The day included speakers, arts and crafts, a Mass and other opportunities for fellowship. (Photo by Daniel Charland)