How would you prefer to spend your money? Option A: 1 week in sunny Mexico, finishing with a weekend in one of the nicest hotels in the West Coast or Option B: 1 overpriced night dancing in a gym?
Our seniors pick Option A. every year. Prom always sounds awfully boring when you compare it to international travel and beautiful weather.
What they do not always factor in, though, is that the majority of their week is spent constructing homes for impoverished families. Over the years, Chicago Hope Academy has built a partnership with Youth With a Mission in Baja, California.
Each spring break, our seniors, led by several members of staff, are partnered with a family, for whom they build a home over the course of several days. This year our group of nine students built two homes in three days.
But the relationships each group formed with the families they were serving were just as vital to us. The two families did not have running water, electricity, or floors prior to construction. It was a radical experience for the entire team of Americans. During our time there, we met many community members and the kids of the neighborhood helped us build their neighbors’ new homes.
One senior said, “I had no idea that such a sense of community was possible. That neighbors would help one another in such a way.” The hospitality and generosity that the communities showed the team also affected each team member. It was a special experience for everyone involved to see how smiles and hand motions could bridge the gaps where language could not.
It was so exciting to make a visible impact upon a community. Seeing the students develop a team mentality and participate in character-building activities like painting, hammering, and shingling roofs was equally a blessing. At the beginning of the week, students had to be coached on each task, but by the second day everyone was finding work to do, seeking opportunities to assist one another, and teaching themselves how to do different tasks when leaders were busy.
By the time we had to leave, the students wished we had worked a little slower. “I’m going to be honest, I came on this trip primarily to hang out in San Diego. But now I wish we could just stay here.” We spent the final night in Mexico telling stories of paint battles, mastering the perfect hammering style, and the great things we saw one another do.
San Diego was a shock to the system. After almost five days in dust and dirt, surrounded by poverty, the Hotel Del Coronado was almost unbelievable.
One student said, “What is that smell?” as we got out of the vans. Another responded, “I think that’s just ‘clean.’” We all valued the chance to relax, sunbathe, play in the water, and explore a new city. But each of us had been profoundly affected by what we had experienced. Students kept asking me if we could go back and spend time with the families. They saw the wealth around them in a new way, talking about how many houses they could build with the cost of the cars that drove by. But that’s not to say we did not have fun, we watched Wreck it Ralph and ordered pizza to the hotel room, we made March Madness brackets, and we saw the sights.
We arrived back in Chicago very tired, very grateful for our homes, and community that was fostered in our graduating class during their last few months of high school.