Montclair-Based Youth Group Travels to Belize!
Seven members of the high school youth group and their leaders recently embarked on a cultural exchange and service trip.
The students - Nick Duhamel of Little Falls, Loretta and Simona Graceffo of Clifton, Kayla Harney from Bloomfield, Emerson Pentecost of Bloomfield, and Sam and Alex Urszinyi of Verona - will take part in the 10-day adventure in partnership with the
Jacintoville Youth Group in Jacintoville, Belize, led by Sonia and Carlos Cucul.
Both groups of kids will tour local schools, take a tour of an organic & fair trade chocolate factory, explore Mayan Ruins in Nim Li Punit, visit the Belize Zoo, explore Blue Creek Cave, and learn Garifunan drumming, as well as participate in agricultural and community service projects during their stay.
While in Belize, the youth will live with Belizean families so they can fully experience the culture, customs, and cuisine.
"This is such a unique opportunity for our group to grow spiritually and to be welcomed as strangers into a new culture," said Senior Minister Ann Ralosky, of Montclair, who will accompany the youth on the trip.
Duhamel is "looking forward to experiencing so many new things on this trip - traveling on an airplane, visiting a new country, learning their culture, and making new friends."
"I'm so excited about going to Belize," exclaimed Harney. "I can't wait to meet the people I've been Skyping with in person."
"I'm looking forward to this once in a lifetime experience," explained Urszinyi. "I've never done anything like this before, so it is going to be very interesting."
The youth group members raised most of the money for the trip themselves by hosting various fundraising efforts, including a church yard sale in May, and a raffle in June. Sales from fair trade items and babysitting fundraisers also contributed toward the trip. Generous support was also provided by friends, family, the United Church of Christ (UCC) with a Neighbors in Need grant, and members of the FCC congregation.
John Rogers, a graduate of Montclair High School, currently living in NYC and attending Union Theological, is the Youth Director at FCC.
"Relationships are at the center of this experience," he explained. "We will grow cross-culturally as we work, eat, and hang out together. Having lived in Belize
for two years, I am excited to see two groups I know and love come together.”
Also attending as chaperones are Sean Kelley of Jersey City, and Elizabeth Horner, of Woodbridge, NJ. Both are volunteer Youth Group leaders. First Congregational Church of Montclair is an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ.