When is a vacation more than just a vacation? When getting away from it all is combined with spending time helping others.
Mission trips, also known as volunteer vacations, are a popular way of traveling and experiencing a new place as well as extending a helping hand to others in need. These trips fall into a number of categories: religious, educational, medical, family, individual, group, etc. Some are organized through churches, charitable organizations, colleges and universities and operators who specialize in matching volunteers with groups in need. And there’s even a term for these do-good travelers: voluntourists.
Recently a group of approximately 50 people, mostly from DeKalb County, traveled to Montego Bay, Jamaica, for what can best be described as a trip with dual purposes—supporting a struggling school and church community, and enjoying what makes the West Indian island a popular tourist destination.
The trip was organized by Dr. Earl and Carolyn Glenn, publishers of The Champion and Free Press newspapers, through Unconditional Love for Children, an initiative of the Earl and Carolyn Glenn Foundation. The late-November through early-December trip brought together many of their relatives, friends, colleagues and even a few of the newspaper’s employees.
While afternoons and evenings were spent shopping, sightseeing and enjoying all that the Ritz-Carlton Montego Bay had to offer, the mornings were spent upgrading the school’s computers, hosting a clothing giveaway for the community and holding workshops for the children and parents of the Mt. Zion Christian School. Among the 11 workshops that the volunteers led:
• Building Self-Esteem
• Organizational Skills and Time Management
• Conflict Resolution
• Computer Technology
• Parent Forum on Helping Students to be Successful
The school’s teachers also participated in a teacher strategy and coaching workshop.
Each volunteer was assigned one or more responsibilities.
“Entering a new culture usually brings about uneasiness on the part of both cultures. However, upon arrival at Mt. Zion, there was a sense of community, a warmness that beckoned us to be a part of their community, connecting the two cultures,” said Betty Palmer, ULC director.
“I think it is one of the best things that can happen for this school,” said Lorrel Brown-Morgan, principal at Mt. Zion Primary School, which educates 26 students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. “It brings a sense of hope.”
Candice Kelly, 17, was on her first trip to Jamaica and her first mission trip. She came along with her grandparents Eugene and Patricia Walker and co-led a computer technology workshop.
“I feel like the Jamaican children I have come in contact with have experienced so much struggles and troubles in their lives, but they are so respectful and kind,” said Kelly. “American children could learn a lot from them. It’s an eye opener.”
Asked her thoughts on mission trips, Kelly said, “It’s brilliant. It’s a getaway and feeling like I am giving something back while I am enjoying my time.”
Katherine Turk, a retired Stone Mountain educator, who pitched in on the teaching and coaching workshops, spoke of the trip in glowing terms.
“It was a beautiful life-changing experience,” said Turk. “Just seeing not only how we can make a difference in the lives of people here.”
Attorney Don Roman, who also took part in ULC’s first mission trip to Jamaica last year, split his time between helping at the school leading a peer pressure and conflict resolution workshop, and hitting the links at several golf courses.
“It’s a great concept,” said Roman of mission trips. “We have all been blessed in all kinds of ways.”
The volunteers and the Glenns also made a $5,000 donation to the school.
Carolyn and Earl Glenn thanked those who participated for their selflessness and for supporting the goals of their foundation to “to provide opportunities for children from low socio-economic circumstances to live holistic lives.”