From all appearances, the Best Western Lodge in Nederland appeared to be hosting a cocktail party. On a cold, February Saturday night, one could hear the Celtic music squeezing through the door into the night, smell the aroma of spaghetti sauce simmering, see the delicate, scrumptious desserts and the guests chatting, wineglasses in hand.
It was much more than a party. The group of folks at the Best Western was there to donate to sending a group of Nederland High School students to Belize, where they will fix the floors of a schoolhouse and paint it, but it will be much more than a remodel. As the students work, they will become ambassadors, will hang with the Belize students and share stories of their lives. They will represent the goodwill and caring nature of Nederland as well as the United States.
Diversity teacher and trip organizer Lori Kinczel said the event was just one of the activities planned to ensure that every child will have the means to make the trip. This year 22 high school students and two 20-something young adults will accompany five staff members to the poverty-stricken town of San Ignacio.
The floors of the school are made of particle board and the people have been stepping through the weakened wood. Under the guidance of a muralist, the Nederland youth will also join forces with the Belize students to create a mural. The kindergarten through eighth grade school children loved the Nederland students in their first trip to Belize last year.
It wasn’t all about work. The teens also read to the students, played soccer, rapped and sang. Every time there was a recess, the ambassadors were swarmed by the children wanting to know more about the Americans.
“The Nederland students already can’t wait to get back,” Kinczel said. The students who went on last year’s trip are going on this trip plus three new students. Cori Jannuzzi said, “My mom who is a nurse goes on mission trips with the hospital and said those trips are the best experiences in her life and she wanted me to experience how she felt. I watched my friends come back last year and they were humbled, like they had a new life.
Kinczel said the travelers are eager to find any way to earn money and are offering to do odd jobs for people. If you would like a team of teens to come wash your windows or shovel your driveway, contact Kinczel at lori.kinczel @bvsd.org. She said that everyone helped with the fundraising so everyone will be able to go.
The Nederland community stands behind the trip to Belize. Wild Bear Mountain Center for Ecology donated free child care for the event and four local poets donated their words, while The Live Music band of Bill Ikler, Laura Fisher and Mary Joyce added the warm touch of their music.
Poet Marcello Gamez has a son joining the Belize group and his words were fervent with pride. “This trip is more than a school vacation; it is a journey of discovery.” He said his 13-year-old son Jaden’s trip will involve meeting strangers, which opens doors, hearts and minds.
Mike Parker read poems that emphasized learning and growing through giving, including his poem about Scott Harrison, the Carousel man.
He said, “I love this project. Unbelievable things happen in this community. You dig into your pockets because these kids are digging into their hearts.”
Kayanne Pickens said she wanted to honor the parents and teachers who support their children in the project. “This is a phenomenon: kids growing up and learning to give back.”
Lori Kinczel’s husband Joe said that the whole project was about his family and read poems to his son and daughter and to Lori, declaring his love and support of them.
While people nibbled and sipped and talked, they also put in bids on the items in the silent auction. This year’s items consisted of jewelry, books, gifts from local shops and things collected by the students whose name were indicated on the bid sheet.
The funds raised at the event will be added to the money the group earned while working a concession stand at the Bronco’s games during the season. The next fundraising event will be a dinner featuring food from Belize on April 9 at the Sundance Café.
Donations may be sent to Nederland Middle/Senior High School at P.O. Box 1754, 80466.