Building Walls and Relationships
One NAESP member recounts his experience on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission, where he put to use his willingness to learn and desire to help those in need.
By Todd Boucher
February 2019, Volume 42, Issue 6
Via Twitter, @ToddBoucher
Taking part in a mission trip was nowhere on my radar about six months ago. That all changed in October when I was chosen at random out of all of the 2018 NAESP National Distinguished Principal recipients to represent NAESP on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission to Juncos, Puerto Rico.
While I was excited at the prospect of making a difference in other’s lives, I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I honestly wasn’t sure I would be very helpful. I had absolutely no experience in construction, other than painting my own house and putting down some baseboards. How could I possibly be of any use to this project? I thought.
But then I realized there were two big qualities I did have: a willingness to learn and an eagerness to help those in need. And it didn’t hurt that the students, staff, and community that make up Popp’s Ferry Elementary School in Biloxi, Mississippi, were beyond eager to help with this project. They worked hard to raise money to donate to the project and also collected school supplies to donate to Colegio Bautista de Juncos. This was truly a team effort right from the start.
As the day to leave for the trip got closer, I found myself filled with apprehension as I really wasn’t sure what to expect on this adventure. I use the term “adventure” because an adventure can be an exciting experience that sometimes can be a bold and risky undertaking. Simply put, I didn’t know what to expect.
Meeting New People
The first few days were filled with meeting new people from all across the U.S. Everyone involved had a story and a history to share. Sure, we all had preconceived notions as to what the person from Missouri, Utah, or Minnesota would be like. One of the greatest parts of this experience was meeting these people and sharing stories that made us who we are. Relationships were fundamental to this journey.
Via Twitter, @ToddBoucher
I also allowed for self-reflection in terms of the relationships that were important in my life. Forging relationships with my fellow Memory Missionaries, and the people of Puerto Rico gave new perspective to what is—and what is not—important as we go through life. Plus, I learned new skills like laying concrete blocks, mixing cement, and building concrete forms—skills I never thought I would learn in life.
In addition to building the walls at this school, building relationships with such a diverse group of people brought on an even greater sense of accomplishment. The fact that a group of 41 individuals could come together and, within a week’s time, accomplish so much is simply astounding. Many of us shared moments of pure joy as we worked alongside one another and with our new Puerto Rican friends. The personal experiences of new friends Juan, Joel, Frank and Pastor Edwin, to name a few, aided us as we learned what they had endured both during Hurricane Maria and the 16 months since. We were eager to work alongside them and help them further their recovery.
Listening to the stories from the students, parents, grandparents, and teachers really provided perspective and a revised attitude. The people we met and worked with were no different than us; their lives are filled with hopes and dreams and they long for a sense of normalcy following the destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow to their island paradise.
After experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Katrina firsthand in Mississippi, this is something that I and my entire community could relate to. Providing our new friends with a sense of hope was paramount to our helping them recover, while simultaneously providing me with my own sense of personal achievement.
Where to go from here? We learned so many new life lessons. The burning question for me was, “Why didn’t I do this earlier in life?” It really put the spotlight on what is and isn’t important in life and how important relationships are to our success. These 41 strangers left Puerto Rico as a unified group, after only a week together. It shows the power of what we can accomplish together. So my advice to you: Put down the television remotes, log off the computer, and get off the couch. Do something with your friends and family that will help build those relationships in your own communities and hometowns.
In the grand scheme of things, building strong relationships with others not only makes you feel better as a person, but it also helps you learn that you truly don’t know what you are capable of doing until you get out there and do it.
Via Twitter, @ToddBoucher
Todd Boucher, a 2018 NAESP National Distinguished Principal, is principal of Popp’s Ferry Elementary School in Biloxi, Mississippi.
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