Sharing Love and Building Hope in Mexico
“My heart and soul have been replenished by the unbelievable scenes of jubilation from David and Celena Cortez, the Mexican family for whom we built a modest, yet sturdy home this past week,” shared Denise Gritzner, who participated for the first time on a homebuilding trip. “It was such a delight to hand over the keys to a structure that was built for them through the hands of many loving volunteers.”
Kevin Kalmin, another first timer, who came on the team with his 14 year old son Ethan, expressed his gratitude for the trip in this way, “The concept of experiencing the Kingdom of God while you were there was so evident. We could see an amazing amount of love – among the volunteers, in their interactions with the Mexicans, and in the entire seven-day experience. It was a great break from our normal routine and I hope this spirit of love lasts. I can only describe the entire trip as so peaceful.”
For the seventh time in 12 years, Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster sent a group of 26 volunteers to Rosarito, Mexico from July 18-24 to build a home for a family in need through the organization Project Mexico. The group joined another 100 volunteers from around the country, sleeping in tents on the ranch of St. Innocent Orphanage, an Orthodox Christian home for orphan boys from ages 5 to 18 years old. Each day the volunteers worked on building a 20 x 15 foot basic home with a concrete foundation, sturdy walls, windows and doors and solid roof that will keep a family safe and warm especially during the rainy seasons.
Fr. Luke Veronis highlighted, “This mission trip is such a blessing in numerous ways. First, we put our faith into action by traveling to another country and helping a family in need. By this we help our volunteers better understand that there are no boundaries to God’s love. Of course, we go to share God’s love with others in need, but as is always the case, the more we offer God’s love to others, the more we experience this love ourselves in new and vibrant ways. Every single member of our team will say that this experience renewed and rejuvenated their faith. We now better understand Jesus’ words “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And this international experience only motivates our Church community to offer more concrete acts of love on a local basis. For example, over the years our Church has gotten involved in building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Worcester, running a Red Cross Blood Drive, opening up our church facilities to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Alanon meetings, as well as offering a free, monthly “Living Bread Luncheon” to the community at large in Webster each first Saturday of the month. We also have clothing drives, food drives, and help out local families in need. Our Christian faith is all about sharing God’s love, and Project Mexico has helped our people understand that we must offer this love at a local as well as global level. God’s love knows no limits!”
Many of the team members expressed how this experience took on new significance by leaving the comforts of the United States and experiencing what life is like for the majority of the world. The team traveled only 30 minutes across the border, and yet for many, they felt they entered another world. Getting the youth, young adults, and parents to break away from their typical American life, including disconnecting from all social media, and to experience not only extreme poverty, but especially the extreme beauty and love of the Mexican people was life changing. Transformational change occurs not only in the lives of those in need, but in the volunteers as well.
“This trip made me appreciate all that I have. What made it special was being a part of something bigger than myself,” expressed 11th grader Katerina Babanakis. “What a wonderful feeling we receive whenever we do something beautiful for others.”
Nicholas Veronis, an 8th grader at Dudley Middle School who has gone on four of these trips, noted in his Instagram post, “I’m so glad to have helped change the life for one family.”
“I love experiencing different cultures and seeing how people live in different parts of the world,” shared Matvey Zhuk, a sophomore at Shepherd Hill. “Whenever I travel, I realize how we may do things differently around the world, and yet we are still a part of the same global family. We are all brothers and sisters with one another.”
“My favorite part each year is how we connect in a special way with new Mexican families,” highlighted Panayiota Veronis, another sophomore from Shepherd Hill. “I loved playing every day with Celene, Daneley, Pavlina, and Samantha, who are just like any other children around the world. Building a home for their family was special, and bringing joy into their lives, at least for the days that we were there, was an added bonus.”
Charlotte Neslusan, whose three children have all gone to Project Mexico, and whose husband Neal has been a leader on six trips, commented, “I was so happy to have finally participated in this phenomenal experience. Each year I hear my children and husband talk about how wonderful it is, and now I got to see for myself. What really impressed me was the solid leadership of all the young interns who did an incredible job directing the entire program.”
Two of these interns included Charlotte’s daughter, Olivia Neslusan and Theodora Veronis. These two 2018 high school graduates decided to be a part of 15 interns who are spending the three months of their summer overseeing the approximately 700 volunteers who are building 30 homes. They are both the fruit of the ministry of Saints Constantine and Helen Church, and after participating on three trips over the past four years, decided to become summer interns. In fact, this internship at Project Mexico is only the beginning of a GAP Year of Service these two young women decided to do before going to college, serving others in projects around the world. Along with Mexico, they will be traveling to Uganda, Kenya, Costa Rica, Albania and Greece to serve others in similar projects.
In conclusion, Faith Veronis, an educator at Dudley Elementary School whose four children have all participated in Project Mexico numerous times, emphasized, “As an educator and parent, I realize life’s greatest lessons are ones that are hands-on, rigorous, and meaningful. This cross-cultural experience of building a home for an impoverished family in Mexico builds bridges of friendships, develops the idea of community service, opens the eyes, minds and hearts of our youth in powerful ways, and broadens their understanding of what brings true happiness in life. Life is not only about entertaining ourselves or making ourselves happy, but true and lasting
IN WHOM DO WE TRUST?
Our Orthodox Faith