Looking across the Granite Bay High School quad after spring vacation, students have become noticeably tanner. While it may appear they were at the beach, many dedicated their breaks to helping others.
Bayside Church’s Mexico Outreach Ministry has created a program where both college and high school students are given the opportunity to serve God and help those in need in Mexicali, Mexico.
This program, which began in 1996 with only 26 students, now has over 1,000 volunteers attending.
The volunteers will leave on Mar. 18 and return on Mar. 26, the majority of GBHS’s spring break.
Victoria Hatch, a leader of one of the groups has been spending the week of Easter in Mexicali with Bayside for the last three years.
“This year I am the adult team leader,” Hatch said. “I’m on an impact team where we’re assigned a specific church that we go to all week and we play with the kids, try and teach them about faith.”
An impact team isn’t the only path that a volunteer can take, there is also construction, festival and community service.
Construction builds two bedroom homes for families, while festival brings fun to the churches with bounce houses and face painting. Community service takes on a variety of projects including cleaning up parks and administering to the homeless.
Each of these options provide students with a unique opportunity to interact and experience something new they might not get to in Granite Bay.
Genna Kozlowski, a junior at GBHS who is a part of the construction teams, loves the interactions she experiences.
“I go down to build a closer relationship with God personally, and to make an impact on others lives. It feels really good to do something with my spring break by helping others,” Kozlowski said.
Spending the whole week serving others may not sound appealing at first, but with the growing numbers in this program it is apparent that students have found something they love.
Developing relationships with the kids she sees has kept senior Camilla Griggs returning time and again on this trip.
“(Last year) we went back to the same sight I went (my) first year and as soon as we got to the place(…) immediately the kids recognized you and they were so excited to see you,” Griggs said.
In fact Griggs looks forward this year going to the same area again and fortifying her connection to these communities.
The significance of this experience on the students is as much or more than that on the children.
“You don’t only get to change the lives of others, but you yourself get to experience a trip that will leave an infinite impact on your life,” Lugo said. “I know this trip has done this for me.”
However, this trip does not just consist of the week in Mexicali, there are number of steps that teams must do in order to prepare.
This includes three formal trainings and team building activities which are designed to help teams feel like “families” before they leave on this journey
Lugo is leaving two days earlier than the majority of the volunteers as a part of the “Spartan” team which helps to prepare their camp before the rest of the volunteers show up.
“We have tons of things to set up, but our main job (…) will be to get all the tents up before everyone gets there. We arrive on Thursday to Mexico, while the rest of the groups arrives on Saturday,” Lugo said.
Once in Mexico all participants stay on a campsite that the Mexico Outreach ministry purchased in 2009.
After spending five days and a total of seven hours a day working with these children or helping the community the volunteers head back home.
The students supporting this program return home with a new maturity and appreciation, and a longing to return again next year.
“For the students that go with us they learn to serve and give their hearts and go down with purpose and it really grows their faith too,” Hatch said. “The big point is(…)that here we go to give and serve but it’s unbelievable what it gives back.”