This April, a group of 16 eighth graders and five chaperones visited Rancho Santa Fe, Honduras on a mission that affirms the importance of respecting all peoples and valuing their differences, as well as the need to act responsibly in our community and the world. In 2004, the school established a relationship with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, a charitable organization which serves orphaned and abandoned children in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The students lived and worked in a self-sufficient community in Honduras interacting with children and volunteering in a variety of capacities. Jobs included working on the farm (collecting over 1000 eggs daily), helping in the kitchen (preparing meals for 600 people), making tortillas (3000 daily produced in the tortilla house), maintenance (painting, raking leaves, clearing reservoirs), assisting in the medical clinic, working in the preschool, and doing childcare.
According to Phoebe Hagberg, “I learned that to use the experience to the fullest, you must step out of your comfort zone, whether it means saying something in Spanish that you’re not sure about the meaning of, or talking to the people that you wouldn’t normally talk to. I also learned that you need to be flexible because no matter what you are doing, if you go into it with an open mind and heart, you will have a good time.”
In addition to the Honduran trip, 15 additional eighth graders visited Appalachia for a one week’s immersion in Binns County, Virginia. Students spent the day in a low-income coal mining town refurbishing and fixing dilapidated houses in the area. At night they did various cultural events including learning about coal mining, a town dance, and listening to local Appalachian music. The last day of the trip was spent playing and learning at a local Appalachian public high school. All of the students stayed at
the community center in the heart of the town making all meals together in the community kitchen.
Another four students performed community service right here in Boston. The students served lunch and dinner to over 300 members of Boston’s homeless community at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tremont Street. They also met volunteers from different communities around Boston. Many of them have been serving meals once a month for years and were eager to explain what makes St. Paul’s Monday Lunch Program so wonderful. They also visited the Cardinal Mederios Center on Isabella Street, a Day Center that provides coffee and meals to its members, all of whom are over 45. This organization also provides other services such as access to health professionals and job counseling. The students handed out brand new socks to the members and helped serve lunch.
On the final day in Boston, the students went to Common Art at Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street to hear a talk by Pastor Mary Eaton on why people become homeless. She explained that people who become homeless don’t have support networks. Sometimes they have broken the bonds. Other times, they just don’t have the people in their lives to help them. Yet, every time we look a homeless person in the eye, we create a connection like the beginning of a spider web, and the more connections that are made, the stronger the web until it becomes the support network. At the Common Art program, the students provided hot coffee, tea, and snacks as well as lunch for members of the homeless community. Then they sat down and created their own works side by side with the guests. The process of making art is an important escape from life in shelters or on the streets. Art is never thrown out and artists can return whenever they want and find the pieces they have created. It is a wonderful way to bring some sense of joy, value, and community back to individuals who struggle with a variety of circumstances.
According to Natalie Hochbrunn, “Before I went to Boston I would always avoid a homeless person when I walked by them. I did this because I was just copying what everyone else did. When I went to Boston, I learned that it means so much to just look a homeless person in the eye and say hi. When you walk by and ignore them, it gives the person more reason to think that they don’t deserve a home and food.”
Written by Barbara Kelley, Kelly Schwenkmeyer and Gretchen Forsyth