Colorado Reflections, 2019
The first day we helped deliver firewood to families and people living off the grid. It costs them a lot of money to simply drive into town and get firewood. Most of these people use firewood to heat their house and food and much more. They could not live without it.
What I noticed when we got to people’s houses was these people were not what many people think poor looks like. Many people chose to be out there and lived a good life. They had a community, most of the people off the grid knew each other. They had dogs and other pets that were part of their family. They wanted to live off the grid and were happy living on very little. Many didn’t work and just lived off the check the government gave them.
What I learned from this is never think you know someone before you really get to know them. I was thinking these people lived there because they were forced to. I was thinking they were hoping to move somewhere else. Don’t ever tell people what they need. They have to tell you how to help.
Lily Martens, 10th grade, Memorial High School
On Monday, we went out to the “flats” or the plains of the San Luis Valley. We met a man named Matt. Matt showed us a completely different way of life while we were driving way out to the residents of the flats. He talked about his experience with his neighbors. He made it clear to us that these people weren’t his customers or his clients but they were his neighbors and friends. He explained that people on the flats don’t have electricity and if they do it’s a little bit that’s run on solar panels. Instead they use firewood and propane tanks. While we were giving people wood, we learned about their stories. One woman shared that she was working too hard in her career that she got so stressed that she had a heart attack. Her doctor told her to stop working but she didn’t. After that her house burned down. She then decided to pack up what they could and move to Colorado. Another man we learned about was John. John refused to ask for help. At one point, John was taking some of the wood from his porch and house so he would have firewood to burn for heat. He would have destroyed his house if Matt hadn’t come to help him get firewood. The mission trip has showed not me but everyone how people live very differently but are still happy.
Gavin Muckian, 10th grade, Memorial High School
This week was an experience to remember. Not only did I get closer to people my age, I also got to meet more wonderful people. This trip changed my view on people in my group, but also of homeless people and those who work in the shelter. One thing I am sure I’m never going to forget is having lunch at the shelter (La Puente). We were told to split up and sit in different areas of the lunchroom. Two friends and I were looking for a place to sit. Now this being our first time there we weren’t sure where to sit. But luckily saving us, an older man sitting by himself waved us over to his table showing us there were tree open seats. As we were making small talk, I asked him what his plans were for the future. Immediately he told us he was headed to L.A. I’m ashamed to admit it but I thought he was going to gamble and buy drugs. But Jordan, in our group, being the person she is asked what he was going to do there. He explained that a famous football player is opening a rehab center there and he needs help with construction. After learning that he wanted to help people help people I learned something deeper. Some people see tattoos as mistakes you’re going to regret. Others, like me, see them as opportunities to express yourself. But in reality neither is right or wrong. It all depends on how you see it. Before, I saw this homeless man as someone who didn’t try and was kind of pointless. But as I got to see deeper I learned that he was a sweet man who had lost his wife 3 years ago and that even though he wasn’t able to help himself yet, he wanted to help others. And Tammy, Greg, Chuck, Jordan, Maddie and so many others helped change what I understood. This trip has impacted me greatly and I’m already counting the days until next year!
Josie Gilbert, 8th grade, Savannah Oaks
At La Puente, three other youth and I helped prepare a dinner for those in need. We were given a random assortment of items and had to make dinner for around 50 people just from those items. We ended up making beef and potato stew, a salad with homemade dressing, cheesy garlic bread, mashed potatoes and cake. We worked for three hours just to prepare the meal to help others.
What really hit me was the assortment of people that came to eat. They all were very kind and grateful for the food. We had a veteran, someone who was blind, someone who was mute, and a few autistic people who came to eat. It was amazing to see how happy they were to receive the food and how positive they stayed given their current situation.
In the end, I was so glad I got to go on this trip to help people and experience so many great opportunities.
Coen Fewel, 11th grade, Verona High School
Coming into this mission trip, I honestly didn’t know what to expect; many of my friends had been on these trips, and I was kind of an outcast at first, or at least I kind of felt like it. However, as the days progressed, I began to grow closer to all of the people here, and I felt so much better about everything. My confidence began to grow, and with that, my personality began to show as well, which is great because I didn’t want the people on this trip to know me for something that I’m not.
One event on this trip that really stood out to me was climbing the sand dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Upon arriving at the park, I realized how big the dunes really were and I was determined to at least get close to the top. I took off my sandals and made the trek barefoot, despite many tiny rocks hurting my feet before getting to the actual dunes. The group I was with eventually spread out along the dunes because we were strongly awoken by the fact that altitude is in fact a thing and it is much harder to run when at 7,500 feet altitude than at 450 feet altitude.
After roughly 45 minutes of walking up the dunes, it was becoming clear that I did not have the time to reach the top, however, I made a goal for myself to reach the top of one of the many high dunes, instead of the very top.
My strength was undying at first. I was chugging along the ridges of sand with fierce eyes and a strong goal, but as I continued forward the dune became steeper, the wind louder, the sand sharper. At one point I got so tired that I was thinking of giving up, that I couldn’t continue forward. I sat down for a minute and really pushed my mind to the limit. I told myself over and over again: “You can do it!” “You are stronger than you think!” I shook off all the negativity that was weighing me down and I got up and pushed the hardest I could to the top of the dune. Once I reached it, I sat down and looked around the valley surrounding me. I took in all of it. All of my hard work paid off and my spirit and strength completely renewed. That event truly opened my eyes to the fact that I AM stronger than I think.
Cady Schaal, 12th grade, Memorial High School
My fourth mission trip started out with a sleepless night followed by altitude sickness and a strong feeling of missing home. Needless to say I had a little bit of a rough start to my trip, however, as the week continued I realized how lucky I was to have a home to miss. Working with Habitat is a humbling experience. It’s easy to take your home for granted, but putting in several hours of construction on a house for someone else begins to open your eyes to what a privilege it is to have a home.
I was only able to work at La Puente for one day but the organization and their several programs amazed me. I worked with a small team of people to prepare and serve dinner at a shelter for around 60 people. I was amazed to learn that the shelter provides three meals everyday for struggling families and individuals. What amazed me even more was the kindness and gratitude displayed by the people we served. Several people came up to me complimenting the food and thanking us for our time. It was beautiful to see that even in the crossroads of crisis people were able to show the upmost level of kindness.
Each trip is always a new and different experience and this trip was no exception. I had so much fun, worked hard, and learned a lot from the people around me—both fellow peers and volunteers at the worksites. I cannot wait for next year’s trip (my final trip) and want to thank everyone who makes these trips possible.
Maddie Miller, 12 grade, Memorial High School
Colorado Reflections, 2019
Going into this I knew that we were going to be helping people in bad situations. What I didn’t know was that these people didn’t all want a home with all the things that is “normal” for a person. On the first day we delivered firewood to the people on the flats. They live without electrical power. They use propane and firewood to heat their homes. At first I thought that they only lived out there because they could not afford a house but after meeting them I realized that they choose to live out there. They lived out there not because they had to but because they liked the isolation of it.
Another example of this was hearing the story about people who had lived under a bridge. They were not happy when it flooded over because they were kicked out. One person we met had made homemade tools and adapted so much he wanted to live there.
Everyone is different and we can’t just say everyone wants a house in the suburbs. And this trip has really shown me the truth in this.
Reece Dowd, 8th grade, Jefferson Middle School
My group and I spent the majority of the week working with an organization called La Puente. One thing that the organization does is make meals for people living at the shelter.
On Tuesday, some of us got to go and have lunch with the people at the shelter. I will always remember this day because I got to have conversation with a really cool guy and here is his story. He talked to us about how three years ago his wife had a blood clot and died in his arms. They had been married for ten years and were very close. Listening to this made me tear up because of how sad it was but also how beautiful it was. Every person in the world has a story to tell and have challenges that have gone through. The thing I love most about these mission trips is hearing stories from people like him.
During the conversation, he asked if he could show us something. He lifted the back of shirt to reveal a tattoo on his back with the quote “God always has your back” and above it was a picture of Jesus. I can’t really explain it but it just spoke to me in a way I didn’t think tattoos would be able to do.
At the end of the conversation he asked why we were there and we told him about the mission trip and what we were doing. When hearing this he prayed for us and blessed us by tracing a cross on our foreheads. Even though this was only a 20-minute conversation in the week, it is the thing I will most remember.
So many people have stories to tell and going on these mission trips gives me the chance to hear amazing stories. I think this is my favorite part. It is a conversation I will always remember.
Jordan Brown, 9th grade, West High School
Before this trip I believed that people who lived in poverty or off the grid were unhappy with their positions in life. As it turns out, the people who live on the flats of Colorado are mostly there by choice. While helping to deliver firewood to them the man I was riding with lived on the flats and explained that living out there lets people feel independent.
Everyone we met had dogs and Matt, our driver, said that it was for company and protection. When we spoke to the people who lived on the flats they were happy to be away from other people and were fine living out there. Most of them relied on Matt to bring them food and supplies from town. One couple we talked to started a non-profit that was doing pretty well. Matt also explained that a trip into town would be $20-$30 and because of that the people couldn’t afford going into town that often.
Annelisa Frueh, 11th grade, West High School
Pulling up to the Great Sand Dunes was incredible. You could only imagine how many movie scenes were filmed there. Not only are they back-dropped by the Rockies, which are beautiful in their own right, the Dunes are massive. Climbing to the second highest peak with my friends Izzy and Jeff was one of the most rewarding things ever. It also put things into perspective, literally and figuratively. It brought me a whole new energy that will take years to burn through. On the way down, Jeff and I described our sensation as a hard-restart meaning we had new energy we could use in the coming days to help others. I will always remember these dunes and they will remind me that I can clear not every obstacle but some pretty huge ones.
Sam Stretchberry, 10th grade, Middleton High School
On the mission trip this year we worked a lot with members of Americorps. During one of the days my group spent a lot of time talking to Paige and Sarah who work with La Puente as Americorp Volunteers. Listening to their stories and hearing them talk about Americorps and why they decided to spend their time in Alamosa was very inspiration and eye-opening for me. We spent a couple hours asking them questions about their lives and why they chose to serve. We asked about anything from pets to whether or not they regret their decision to serve or if they ever get disheartened. In response to the latter question, the women had a lot to say. Neither of them ever regret joining Americorps or coming to La Puente; however, there were obviously bad days. I loved hearing them talk about their work here and the connections they make with the people they serve. Hearing the passion in their voices as they talked about the people they meet and form strong connections with was truly amazing and definitely made me want to spend a portion of my life doing something like it.
That conversation really helped reinforce the importance of the mission trip and volunteering in the way that the kids on this trip get to do. We get to meet amazing people who have been or are going through some really tough times and we all get to see how they’re moving forward and overcoming struggles that are constantly popping up for them.
Rebekah Hoard, 11th grade, Verona High School
On Wednesday our group took a break from hauling dirt and helping in gardens to visit the Great Sand Dunes. I had woken up that day rather cranky due to my lack of water (sorry mom). However as soon as the dunes came into my field of view I forgot about everything that had been weighing me down. As everyone rushed to unpack the bus I followed Jeff and Sam towards the dunes.
Before the dunes there was a creek. When we got there we popped off our shoes and crossed. The sand on the other side wasn’t very hot so Jeffry and I decided to keep our shoes off. Of course Sam being the wiser one kept his on. When we arrived at the bottom of the dunes all we could do is be in awe at the sight in front of us. Although we could have been content just looking up, Sam and Jeffry wanted to take on the dunes. It started with Sam running towards the skyscrapers of sand. Jeffry followed close behind. I knew my asthma would bite me later but the excitement of the unknown made my feet move before I could even decide to start running.
By the first hill we were all out of breath even though we had barely left the bottom. I could go on about the view and how much sand got in my shoes yet what made this trip to the dunes so memorable was Sam and Jeffry. Each time I paused while climbing or told them there was no way I could even reach the shortest peak, they would look back and offer words of encouragement. We made small goals along the way to keep us motivated. Both Sam and Jeffry kept asking if I was okay (my lungs were not). The two of them pushed me to reach one of the peaks and while not the highest peak the view was still breathtaking. Plus making it to the top with friends made me feel on top of the world.
Izzy Schryver, 12th grade, Memorial High School
Colorado Reflections, 2019
When we were briefing for the mission trip I thought that La Puente was merely a homeless shelter but during this week I have realized it is much more. La Puente was not only a homeless shelter but was also a thrift store, a coffee shop, a string of 15 food banks around the San Luis Valley, a non-profit garden that gives to schools and food banks, an outreach center, it also partners with the Boys and Girls Club.
What really shocked me throughout the week was how much La Puente made a difference in the community and their philosophical approach to helping people in need without making them feel pressured by society and what society thinks they need. Instead they truly try to work with the homeless and needy and cooperate with them to find out what they truly need.
Without La Puente, the town of Alamosa would be lost to poverty and the homeless would have no hope. La Puente has a children’s program that takes kids out of the valley and widens their horizons on what their lives might become.
Joey Miller, 8th grade, Jefferson Middle School
This year we went to Alamosa, Colorado. On the second to the last day, some of us went to volunteer at a food pantry. When we arrived, they were giving out peanut butter, meat, and beans. Shortly after we got there the peanut butter ran out. Awhile later so did the beans. It was hard to think that all some people were given was some turkey meat although I’m glad we were able to do our best to help.
One the second day of the trip we got to watch the PALS talent show. PALS (part of La Puente) works with children ages five through ten who have gone through crisis or trauma during their lifetime. The talent show was a powerful way of showing that even though these kids have gone through more trauma than most kids, they’re still normal, happy kids.
For those of you considering coming next year, please do. You won’t regret it and it will be awesome with you there.
Sophie Hodkiewicz, 9th grade, Verona Area High School
On the first day of work about half of our whole group went to a place called “the flats.” The flats is a place where people live off the grid near Mount Blanca. When our Volunteer Coordinator, Paige, told about people living on the flats I was a little bit frightened. She told us about how some of these people put nails on their roads to keep people out and about a man who could kill rattlesnakes by throwing a dagger at them. I thought to myself “this is going to be a long week.”
When it came time to go to the wood lot where we would be picking up firewood to deliver out there I was preparing myself for anything. But when I got the to the lot we met a man named Matt. He was so kind and told us about how he tried to create relationships with people out on the flats so that they would trust him and he could help them. I learned from him that most of these people were hurt by the government and felt safe not relying or interacting with the government. This gave me a window into how they felt and their views. I later remembered that this man, Matt, was the one who could kill a rattlesnake with a dagger.
On the car ride there Paige told me about many laws and other rules that were outrageous towards people who were struggling and poor. When I walked up to Matt’s home a dog came running next to his owner, another man living on the flats. He and Matt were talking about the goings on in the flats. This was when I understood that the flats weren’t a bunch of people living alone but it was a community of neighbors living out in the country and off the grid.
Grace Sherrill, 10th grade, Country Day School
We volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for someone in need. When we got there, there was a huge pile of dirt that was the source of one of the jobs: hauling wheelbarrows of dirt to various places. I didn’t enjoy shoveling the dirt into the wheelbarrows but I found I really enjoyed hauling the wheelbarrows. The other job, my favorite, was helping with construction of a house. We got to hammer in nails, carry wood, improvise when things went wrong and see our progress come together. We we first arrived, the house was just a concrete and Styrofoam foundation. At the end of the week the floor boards were in. I really enjoyed the construction and despite the heat there were occasional breezes and we had plenty of water. The mission trip was really fun.
Ethan Evensen, 12th grade, Verona Area High School
On the second to last day of the trip, myself and three others volunteered to cook and serve dinner at the La Puente Shelter. As we served guests, we would socialize, ask how their day was going, the general small talk. Eventually a man came up and I noticed he was wearing a United States Navy cap. I asked if he had served and he said yes, four years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. I thanked him for his service and he thanked me in return. He went on to say the years he’d served had led to his contracting a disease (its name I can’t remember), and stated “my body is dying.” He continued to move down the line, but I felt tears come to my eyes. How could it be that the “land of the free and the home of the brave” could allow those who served our country to suffer in poverty while corporate millionaires live only in service to themselves? Is this how we repay the men and women who’ve donated their lives in service to their country? By abandoning them to rely on shelters for basic human needs? My heart, in no minor terms, broke for this man and all others like him in our country.
As a young individual I am constantly looking to the future, wondering how I’ll shape my own life, how I’ll try to save the world so it can be hospitable for my own children, my friends’ children, my family; but even more important than that is looking back. Looking back to the elders who made my world for me, protected me from harm, and defended my most basic rights. The only way to move forward is to remember and care for the past. So that myself and my descendants can honor our elders and veterans not by serving them stew at a shelter for the homeless, but by respecting and caring for them as the heroes they are.
Charlotte Ravenscroft, 12th grade, Memorial High School
On the mission trip this year we went to a town named Creede. We spent part of the day there shopping/wandering. After lunch we went to an old silver mine and had a tour. Sam was our tour guide. He actually had worked in the mine and had a lot of information he shared with us. The tour was through an actual mine and they used wax figures to show what the men did, how they mined, and the evolution of the equipment. One thing he said during the tour that stuck out to me was that because it was such a small town they were like a family and they always watched each other’s backs which is why he is still alive to give tours and talk about it.
The rest of the week I was working with Lawrence and Tom at Habitat for Humanity. They had just started a new house so we were working on the flooring, driveway, and hauling dirt. This was another fun experience because it was a lot of intense labor but we were doing it together and there was an adorable dog named Mr. Bojangles to keep our spirits up. It was rewarding to work there knowing that we were helping build a house for someone in need and we could see our progress throughout the week. Also Lawrence and Tom were very helpful and happy to help. Tom brought us treats during lunch which were appreciative of and thankful for.
Rachel Hoard, 12th grade, Verona Area High School
Colorado Reflections 2019
One experience that resonated with me was the time we spent with the people who lived on the flats. I was really surprised by how they acted in response to either semi or major crises. One experience that really struck me was meeting a woman who experienced so much trauma I thought she wouldn’t even want to get out of bed. Her heart didn’t work quite right so she was constantly dealing with both pain and medical bills. On top of that, her house had burned down in a fire and she lost everything.
But all throughout this she was so kind, surprisingly social and more than happy to tell her story. She got married, got several pets such as dogs and cats, and started her own company. She then frequently mentioned unicorns—one of her many possessions.
In the face of crisis, she strongly went forward, encouraging us to follow our passions just as she had.
This experience also represented the acts of others we met who were challenged. They were all friendly, kind, sociable, and all told us to follow our dreams. None of them, even the ones we met in the homeless shelter regretted their decisions because they were all happy even where they ended up.
Amalia Sherrill, 8th grade, Spring Harbor
On the first day of our trip we visited an area called the flats where people live off the grid. We delivered wood to them so they could use it to heat their houses and cook. People who live in the flats don’t have running water, electricity, and many other resources. At first I thought that people lived this way because they didn’t have much money, or didn’t have a choice. When I talked to people living on the flats I realized this was not true. Many of them live this way to feel a sense of independence, to live off the land, and simply to be secluded from other people.
Our third stop on our trip to deliver firewood was to a house owned by two women who were married. After unloading the wood, we got the opportunity to chat with the women and learn about their experiences. We learned that one woman had heart problems, her house burned down, and they didn’t have much money. Even with all of these struggles they had faced, they run a non-profit for cancer patients out of their small trailer home. I found it amazing that they were living out on the flats with no resources, had overcome hardships, and were still able to devote their time to helping other people. When we were ready to leave their house one woman said to us, “find what you are passionate about, and I don’t care what that is, whatever you are passionate about, devote your life to it.” It was very inspiring to hear her say this because that was what she had done. She found what she was passionate about and worked for it, and she seemed extremely happy.
Lila Eggerling-Boeck, 10th grade, West High School
We went to Habitat for Humanity this week and though it was very exhausting it was very satisfying to see what we did. The first day we were setting up the foundation to support the flooring of a house. We also had a huge dirt pile that we had to move to fill the gaps around the foundation.
On the second day we set up the beams and the wood planks for the floor. We moved most of the dirt pile and we also moved gravel into a driveway.
On the third day we started putting up the plywood for the floor and we also shoveled a lot of dirt and put a huge dent in the dirt pile.
It was really satisfying seeing the floor come up and making the driveway work and even though it was hard work, it for sure paid off.
Zach Amburn, 11th grade, Memorial High School
The most impactful experience on this trip occurred at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I was already pretty excited to go and see 700-foot-tall sand dunes in Colorado which is extremely unique but when I found out I could climb them I was ecstatic. I’ve always loved exploration and pushing my body and this was a perfect combination. Overall it was a very surreal experience. Being able to see miles of beautiful Colorado mountains from a scene straight out of the Sahara Desert was unreal.
Of course I never would have made it to the top without Sam. With only about an hour and a half and a water bottle each, the circumstances were not heavily in our favor. Despite this we pushed each other nonstop and agreed where to set goals and where we could take a break. We were constantly being slowed down by our tired legs, relentless wind, and blazing sun, but we never let it dampen our spirits. Eventually it was all worth it. The view is one of those you’ll never forget.
On the way down Sam and I both agreed that we felt like we were floating down the dunes. The sense of accomplishment was unparalleled. Even being late for dinner didn’t bother us.
Jeff Hansen, 12th grade, Memorial High School
This week we attended a talent show put on by the PALS program which is one of the many programs of La Puente. PALS is for children struck with extreme poverty—many of which have seen little of the outside world. This show was composed of 10-year-olds and under and was profound because, aside from the cuteness factor, it was genuinely impressive. These kids could sing, dance, paint, play instruments and even do magic. The audience embraced every mistake and cheered on every child. Everyone was so determined to let these kids know they can succeed.
It was a stark reminder that while even in deep poverty, every child deserves to be creative. It was sad to me that many will never have a similar opportunity to show their creativity to a supportive audience. While the PALS kids are lucky to have the program to help them, so many other children do not have that. So much still needs to be done.
Gabe Martens, 12th grade, Memorial High School