Mission trip to Belize

While most of us spent our winter breaks at home relaxing with our families, members of the Student Optimist Club traveled to Belize to deliver donations and help out the communities.
The 13 members who went on this trip spent the week at the Dream Center International, where they stayed overnight and ate most of their meals.
Kim Adams, assistant director of the University Center and faculty advisor to the Student Optimist Club, has been with the club since it first began in 1994. The club, which usually consists of 20 to 30 people, was the first adult-student optimist club to be formed on a college campus in the world.
“The club is composed of a very diverse group of students,” Adams said. “But they all have very similar values and have a positive outlook on life.”
The trip to Belize was the seventh mission trip the club has planned since it began. The group has gone to Jamaica, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi and also traveled to Belize in 2009.
Two of the group advisors, Sarah Sietz, an academic advisor, and Amberly Bell, a First Year Experience office coordinator for transfer programs, packed their bags to Belize along with the students.
“The mission trip purpose statement was ‘to provide helping hands and support to the community members in Belize,’” Bell said.
The group started fundraising for the trip to Belize in early October. Their goal was to raise $10,000 by the time they left in January.
“We knew this was a hefty goal to accomplish for such a short amount of time,” Adams said.
Regardless, the group raised $11,357 and collected donations and items exceeding $15,000. The club collected money by inviting the Mad Hatters to come to Whitewater and hosting bowling contests, bake sales, Culvers’ nights and more. The club also collected non-monetary donations, including clothes, soaps, paint, beanie babies, first aid supplies and more from the Whitewater Community Optimist Club, service organizations, alliance clubs, local businesses, departments on campus, families and friends.
Each person on the trip brought a suitcase filled with donations to deliver to the people of Belize. When the Student Optimist Club arrived in Belize, something they immediately took notice of were the smiling faces they were greeted with.
“The people there are always smiling,” Sietz said. “They are very appreciative of what they have, even though it may not be much.”
The members who went on the trip were also surprised to see how some of the people in Belize lived.
“Belize doesn’t have a formal garbage pickup,” said Bell. “There was garbage all over the place; some people even used it to build their houses higher up.”
The students’ main project while in Belize was to expand the house of a family with eight children. They did this by turning the porch of the family’s home into another bedroom.
“We worked there for a good couple of days,” Sietz said. “We doubled the size of their house. It was a very rewarding experience.”
Before the student optimists went to Belize, they received news of a girl who aspired to go to college but needed a laptop.
“This was important to the club members because the average age of students that stop going to school in Belize is around the age of 14 or 15,” Adams said.
The club voted, and decided to use some of the donation money to buy her a laptop. Other items bought from the donation money were drills to help build the house for the family of eight and a P.A. System. As the student optimists delivered the laptop to the girl, tears were in everyone’s eyes.
“It was one of the many goose bump moments on the trip,” Sietz said. “It was nice to see her connect with other college students.”
The club also delivered donations to schools they visited and spent a lot of time interacting with the children of Belize.
The group helped paint numerous buildings around Belize and visited orphanages as well. Donations accompanied the group everywhere they went.
“The students grew a lot through this trip,” Adams said. “They learned more about themselves and what it was like for people living in different cultures.”
The members of the Student Optimist Club kept journals and wrote testimonies reflecting on their time spent in Belize.
“This experience has helped me to be appreciative of everything I have, including my family, friends, home, community, education and has also helped me to be simply happy about life,” junior Joanne Gestwicki wrote in her testimony.
“Whatever the cause may be, such as decreasing pollution in our neighborhood, helping the homeless, or even informing others of the importance of exercise, the cause will make a difference in your life and in others,” junior Dan Buehler said.
The club said they enjoyed going to Belize because of the connection they have with the Dream Center.
The club said they hope to start fundraising money for their next trip, which usually occurs every other year, so they will be able to donate more money to the people in need.
“The optimist club is known for rolling up their sleeves and getting involved with the community,” Adams said.
To get involved with the Student Optimist Club or other student organizations on campus, go to the JOIN program at uww-community.symplicity.com.

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