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Creating Community in Jamaica


Archbishop Mitty High School embraces the Catholic educational mission of developing community while teaching students to promote service, justice, and peace. Senior Maddie Zenk participated in an immersion trip that occurred during Easter Break, during which she had a chance to create community with a group of children she met at a home for youth living with disabilities or HIV/AIDs.

This is her reflection:
Community is all around us. We have our schools, our homes, our friends, and our families. But what can be hard to imagine in this environment is how it may feel to live day to day without this support. Over this past spring break, I was offered the chance to explore a different country altogether: Jamaica. Three teachers, thirteen other Archbishop Mitty students, and I travelled to Montego Bay over spring break to serve others and immerse ourselves in another culture for ten days.

The immersion trip experience — along with the people I met and the memories I made — was unforgettable. But what stood out to me the most was the importance of creating a community, especially during my time at Blessed Assurance Mustard Seed Community. Blessed Assurance is a home for children and young adults with disabilities and/or HIV/AIDS. They are also wards of the state, meaning they have been given up, as early as when they were first born, and live as orphans. Most of them don’t know what it’s like to have a parent, to be given that love and that sense of belonging. The closest thing they have to that is each other.

After a long bus ride, we finally arrived, and I could feel the nervous anticipation of the group. The questions were in all of our minds, “How would this day go? Would we be able to connect and get along with the kids?” As we walked toward the gazebo where all the children of the community were seated, most in wheelchairs, I felt myself tense up. I was anxious and afraid of not being able to keep a conversation going, of not being fun, of not being able to have a meaningful impact. Overall, I was afraid of not being enough. These kids had so little, and I wanted to give to them all that I had.

Despite my fears, I was the first to enter. The moment I stepped into the area, a little girl in a wheelchair reached her hand out to me and let out a soft squeal. Grabbing her hand, I allowed her to lead me to a seat beside her. She smiled at me, I smiled back, and that’s how we sat, hand in hand, smiling at each other.

Eventually, I took her out for a walk and, upon her request, we stopped on the side of one of the roads where we could observe the other children laughing and playing together. I found out she loved to sing and discovered her favorite song was a classic, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Again we sat, hand in hand, this time singing our own rendition of the song and that was when I realized that this girl that I had just met extended all she had to me: her community.

By just being herself, this girl had given me the gift of her time. Being present to those around us is one of the most powerful and selfless gifts we can give each other. An obstacle many face when trying to contribute to a community is the feeling of insignificance, but this extraordinary experience showed me that just being present to each other can be incredibly meaningful and creates community.