Bonita Springs Day 1
Greetings from the sweltering sunshine state as we begin our 4th mission trip to Bonita Springs, Florida. As usual our hosts for the mission trip have greeted us with great warmth and hospitality. Two of the Brothers that have worked with us, Brother Tim Smyth and Brother Bob Koppes taught at Brother Rice in the 70’s and early ’80’s and even knew the fathers of Mark Warner and Cam Brown. It is a small world that we live in. Brother Smyth greeted us at the airport and kindly got us situated at our motel on Sunday afternoon. Once mass was completed we joined the Brothers for dinner which included Brother Joe from New York, and then had a wonderful opening meditation and orientation about our week. The orientation was directed by two young ladies from Notre Dame who are working with the Brothers and the camp all summer.
We are now the fifth Christian Brother School to be working with the Brothers and the camp so far this summer. The camp is under the guidance of Catholic Charities of Lee County and facilitated by the Brothers who coordinate with Notre Dame and our schools to provide the personnel for the camps. The campers are primarily first generation Mexican children whose parents were migrant workers who have settled into permanent jobs in the area. Parents work during the day and bring their children to the camp for the day. Many of these children have been coming to the camp for as many years as we have been helping. It was wonderful to see the smiles on the faces of the children when they saw Cam Brown and Will Reinhart who were here last year.
We heard from the ladies from Notre Dame that the campers were asking about the Brother Rice boys because we always bring the best counselors. It was amazing to see how quickly they were taking with our boys and sharing their lives with our guys. One guy asked a girl about what she did this weekend and she responded about visiting and bailing her father out of jail. Many of the campers here have some amazing life stories for being only 5-12 years old and our guys have quickly entered into the lives of the children and hopefully will have an impact.
The day went quickly. When we got to the site, St Leo the Great Parish, where some alumni parents attend, we began setting up for the day. The campers started to arrive and one by one our boys began, talking and playing games with the campers. Next was a state sponsored breakfast that the campers get to eat each day. Next was mostly games inside and outside to lunch. You could see with each passing moment our boys being drawn into the lives of the campers. The smiles were abundant from both sides. Lunch was also provided by the State of Florida for the campers. For our boys, we had breakfast of scrambled eggs from the Brothers and then made our own sandwiches for our lunch. After lunch we took the campers to a county park where they ran and played all over under the guidance of our boys. Then back to St. Leo’s and parting for the day.
We quickly ran to the motel, cleaned up and joined our three Brother hosts for dinner. Dinner was simple, Mac and cheese with ham, but there was plenty and it was delicious. After dinner we had a reflection with the Brothers where our boys spoke from their hearts about how the Spirit was moving within them and how they are starting to see the role Christ plays in all of this.
After dinner we had the opportunity to join Br. Joe with the ESL program that he works with. Each of us had the opportunity to work one on one with a student of English as a Second Language. It was a blast working with them. Each of us also had the opportunity to have a conversation with our partner. It was interesting to learn some of the personal details about their lives. Some of the students were even high school age kids, who are not in school, but have to work to earn a living. Amazing to see the hearts of our boys being moved.
The night concluded with a stop at the Royal Scoop Ice Cream Parlor for some cool delicious ice cream. Most of us were exhausted from the day and soon crashed afterwards to re-energize for tomorrow which starts early. Until tomorrow, please keep the mission and our boys in your prayers.
Bonita Springs Day 2
Our day today has quickly come to an end as our boys have been ever more deeply drawn into the lives of our young campers. We have settled into our daily routine pretty well. We get up early so that we can make it to the Brothers house for morning prayer and breakfast. The boys have been very appreciative of all the Brothers have been doing for us. Communal prayer is a big part of the life of a brother and the boys have enjoyed our communal prayers and reflections as it seems to center our day of ministry to our young campers. A part of each day’s morning prayer is praying for the deceased members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers who passed on that day. We remember Brothers from all over the world from the 1800’s to our present time. It helps us to get a feel for the internationality of the Brothers and their ministry.
After a simple breakfast of eggs, we travel to St Leo’s to greet the campers. There the day of interacting and entering into the lives of these beautiful children begins. Usually, the campers will grab games, run to our boys, and the games begin. The smiles on their faces will melt anyone’s heart! After some time playing, we got ready to travel to Zoomers Amusement Park, a favorite of the campers. There each of our boys were assigned a group of campers to lead throughout the day. Then with our boys in tow, the campers ran to each of their favorite rides to go on. Roller Coasters, Spinning Cups and Go-Carts, our boys were up for each challenge. Especially the challenge of having to ride with some of the campers who stand under the 36″ minimum requirement to ride alone. Our tall boys with these tiny campers was a sight to see walking hand-in-hand to each ride.
After lunch as we got ready to go back outside for more rides, but the daily afternoon thundershowers came through and lead us to have to play video games inside. This did not put a damper on the boys as they did their best to have fun with the campers in the now packed arcade. It was nice to see our boys playing and encouraging the campers throughout our rain delay. Unfortunately, the storms lasted all afternoon and we did not get back outside. We did get to play a little when we got back to St. Leo’s as the campers were getting picked up.
After camp, we got cleaned up and headed back to the Brothers House for a nice chicken and rice dinner. With our tummies filled, we headed in to have our souls filled with the Lord as we reflected on our days. The boys again spoke from their hearts as you could see the Lord moving in their lives, from the personal stories that the campers told our boys to their own recognition of why they are here and what the Lord is doing in them. Many are finding out new things about themselves.
Brother Joe Payne from New York again invited us to come and help with his ESL program that he administers. This night was Level 1 students, many of them high school age kids like Andres, a 14 year old boy from Guatemala who is learning English. Because of his personal situation he is not going to school but working to make a living. He hopes to one day to be able to go to school. Many of our boys, take their education for granted until they meet people like Andres and the others in this program. Also many of the boys have found this part of our mission trip to be very fulfilling.
To conclude our evening, we made a stop at the beach to watch the sunset on our day. A quick snack and then bed as we begin tomorrow very early again. And we each are left to ponder what does the Lord have in store for us tomorrow?
Bonita Springs Day 3
Today’s reflection is presented by two of our students.
We are currently on our third day. All of us can’t believe it because we’ve experienced so much in such little time. The culture shock we have witnessed has been extremely drastic. We have listened to crazy life stories from the children, that we have had a hard time comprehending. The time we have spent has been truly eye opening and spiritually moving.
Over the last few days we have all grown closer to the kids as we have shared laughs and smiles. Not only have we grown closer to the children but we (classmates) have also grown closer as a group. Although we are down here to help and teach the kids, we feel as if they have taught us more than we could ever teach them. The kid’s outlook on life is so amazing and the smallest things can make them the happiest kids in the world. We feel as if we can take their outlook, and try to apply it to our lives in Michigan. We feel like we have all grown spiritually, as we have been able to see God in the eyes of all the young children of the camp.
For example, a camper will openly say their father or mother is currently in jail or prison. The kids really aren’t that phased because it’s the same situation for a lot of them. We on the other hand were trying to play it cool. We wanted to be sympathetic but also act like their situation isn’t affected and it easily can be okay. Also these kids do have some serious behavioral issues. A popular kid would be sassy or another kid would constantly kick or slap you and the other girls follow suit. It is important for us to act as leaders towards them and make sure they stay safe and under control. On the other hand, a little boy or girl will copy anything we do so we try to be as polite as possible. The kids then respond with cute pleases and thank you’s. This showed us that they just need someone to look up to because it’s hard for their parents to be role models when they’re always working.
We as a group would like to personally thank all of the Brothers who have showed us immense hospitality, as they have fed us delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Brothers have been so kind and welcoming to us, to make this the best experience possible for us. We also would like to thank the girls from Notre Dame, Miss Alyssa and Miss Jacky. They have been guiding us through this experience and have been working nonstop to make this special for both us and are also extremely dedicated to the wonderful children. Lastly, we would like to thank Mrs. Sandra, the leader of the camp, for all her hard work and her care for the children. It is clear that Mrs. Sandra’s kind and loving heart is reflected in the the wonderful children that she has taught and looked after.