The Piedmont Community Church’s annual Mexican mission trip will transport over 300 PHS students to build 18 houses in Tijuana this coming spring break.
“The hundreds of volunteers work all day in their [construction] teams and each complete a house by the end of the week,” senior Spencer London said.
There have not always been this many volunteers, however. Mission leader Scott Kail said that the trip started before he joined the church 14 years ago.
“The trip was relatively small, 30-40 attending,” Kail said. “We have built the involvement since then.”
The shocking growth of the trip is primarily due to the variety of experiences the trip provides. Everyone goes for a different reason, junior Sofia Barker said. Some go for the travel, others go for the service, and others just because their friends are going.
“I went just because I had heard so much about it from the older grades so it was kind of a given,” senior Halley Wolin said. “I also spoke Spanish so I was excited to go to a Spanish speaking country.”
After their first year, nobody can escape the “Mexico magic,” senior Mia Arthur said. It is impossible to not return after students see their personal impact on the community.
Sophomore Darrell Tjogas said that the relationships made between grades are a major factor in the high return rates. The volunteers also communicate with people whom they have never met and unexpected friendships form as a result.
“Even though I didn’t have a lot of friends my first year, I met a lot of new people,” London said. “I wanted to have that experience again and meet as many people as possible.”.
Bonds within construction teams are the most developed, London said. Because teams are assigned randomly, members get to meet people whom they would not have met on a regular school day. Also, friendships form as everyone bears the poor living conditions together.
“It’s something about being around the same people all day for five days, while you’re all sweaty and dirty and exhausted, that really brings everyone together.” London said.
Team bonding also helps the teams mesh before the trip. Events like barbecues and tie-dye shirt making parties are common, said Arthur. Tjogas also said that the initial awkwardness of the teams fades after a few meetings where friendships are instigated.
“Most teams chose to bond before we leave for Mexico, but either way, your team ends up being so close by the end of the trip,” London said. “Scott [Kail] does a great job encouraging teams to get along.”
The bonds do not dissipate after the trip and most friendships are maintained, said Arthur, who is still in touch with her prior team leaders.
“In my experience, everyone stays friends afterward,” London said. “ I’ve been lucky that my team has always gotten along.”
Bonds throughout the trip are not limited to other students, however. London said that meeting the family he is helping is his favorite part of the trip. The Key Ceremony, where teams present the house keys to the families, is especially incredible, he said.
“We are helping those families in ways we cannot even fathom,” London said.
The relationships with the families while volunteering in Mexico are eye-opening, London said. As people bond with the local children and families, horizons are broadened and cultures are connected.
“My favorite part of the trip is definitely seeing the interaction of our students and leaders with the family they build for and the joy of providing a home for them,” Kail said.
Freshman Christian Hohener said that he is looking forward to the experience as whole. He has heard about the relationships and epiphanies made throughout the journey and cannot wait to grow as a person.
Tijuana is one of the poorest areas in Mexico, and it is important to Piedmont students to see that side of the spectrum, Wolin said. In the process of building the houses, volunteers become more empathetic to those in poverty. The joy volunteers get from providing someone with something so essential is astounding.
“The energy and excitement of so many people gathering for a common cause to help the poorest of the poor is contagious and so worth while, especially coming from all we enjoy living in Piedmont,” Kail said.
Arthur said that the rural location also allows people to be more selfless and happy. Without access to social media, volunteers live in the moment and lose the stress of life in Piedmont.
“Mexico brings out the best in everyone,” Arthur said.