On this, our second annual Backpacks Full of Hope service trip to Puerto Rico, we come as a larger group, and with the same energy and passion to serve those still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. This year, 30 Backpackers made the trek year to the island, ready to replant, rebuild, and restore what was lost in September 2017, when the worst storm in memory broadsided Puerto Rico. Among the group this year are learners from 3rd-12th grade, family, and staff, all setting aside their Spring Break to stand up and say, Boricuas también somos – “We too are Puerto Rico!”
Mateo & Tanja Bokun
SCVi senior Mateo and his mother Tanja join the group this year. Although they were not able to attend last year, they were active in their support and are excited to be able to participate directly this year. The Bokun family has always recognized the importance of helping the community and mother and son are thrilled to be able to extend their hand and home to those in need.
Joseph, Jacob, & Jami Cox
The Cox family has been with iLEAD for 6 years now, and mom Jami is excited that her boys, Joseph (8th grade) and Jacob (11th grade) are learning to give back. For Jake and Joe, this is their first trip outside of the continental U.S., and their first ride on an airplane! Jami has raised her boys on her own for 16 years and she thought this service trip was the perfect opportunity to teach her boys to practice what they preach at home: give before you take, live and learn, and have an adventure before they go out on their own. The whole family looks forward to learning about the Puerto Rican culture and building strong bonds with those living on the island while giving back generously.
Isabella Evens & Millie Jackson
Isa, a veteran of last year’s trip and a senior in high school, returns with her grandmother Millie for BFOH 2019. Millie, born in Puerto Rico was thrilled last year that her granddaughter was not only going to help rebuild, but that Isa would be able to reconnect with her Puerto Rican roots – which she did! And this year, Millie decide to come, too! “After all, this is MY island!” she insisted.
Both have been very active in furthering this year’s mission. Millie has spread the word far and wide and was able to gather a large load of new clothing to donate and has been instrumental in the planning of the trip and its fundraising efforts. Isa has been a shining example to others with her strong yet quiet leadership. She parlayed her experience last year to help solidify our group’s ties to multiple Southern California Rotary Clubs, including giving a presentation to a large group of Rotarians in Manhattan Beach, securing a $1,000 donation toward this year’s trip. Way to go, Millie and Isa!
Invited by his friends to join the group, Brayden (11th grade) threw his hat in the ring this year. “I want to help and Puerto Rico needs help,” Brayden stated simply yet profoundly. Coming from a family that values community service and leadership, he is eager to lend a hand while he learns about the culture of Puerto Rico.
“I hope to experience new things and and become more of a leader,” reflects Brayden; and he certainly has had the chance to do that this year, traveling to Florida to present at the Kennedy Space Center as part of the DreamUp team, visiting Israel to collaborate on the “Science Accelerator,” a joint Israeli-US science and entrepreneurialism project, and now, Backpacks Full of Hope!
Adin, Danijela, & Amer Kuric
Two members of the Kuric family, Adin (10th grade) and mom Danijela, return for their second Backpacks Full of Hope trip, this year bringing dad, Amer, along with them. Joining SCVi in 2009, the Kurics have always been deeply involved with SCVi and iLEAD events. They have long been seeking service trips that they could participate in as a family, and this mission provides the perfect opportunity to do so. They also value being an active part of the planning and fundraising process. They have indeed shown great leadership within our group, and Adin was able to fundraise the entire cost of his trip for the second year in a row! One thing that impacted them deeply last year was contributing to the Earthship PR construction project.
“Holy cow! We’re building hurricane shelters! Not many people can say that,” reflects Danijela. “I’m happy to say that my son and I have become global citizens, and I hope that our family will be able to continue participating in these types of service trips.”
Oliver Munn-Oberg, Deja Munn, & Grant Parker
Three generations of servants from this family join the Backpacks effort this year! Oliver (10th grade) and grandfather Grant (affectionately referred to as “Grant-pa”) were members of last year’s inaugural trip, and this year they are joined by mom Deja. They all come from a long background of servant leadership and have been instrumental in both years’ efforts. For Oliver, a veteran Boy Scout and Venture Scout, this trip is about hearing the pleas for assistance and responding. “I felt obligated to go because I have been taught to show kindness to all.” Deja hopes to contribute in a meaningful way to the people of Puerto Rico and says, “I also hope to facilitate meaningful reflection among the participants and to enable the youth to maximize their impact and growth of leadership skills.” Grant says, “I am returning this year because of the need for continued relief efforts and perhaps more importantly, because of the impact of the trip on all of us. The bonding with the people of Puerto Rico was ingrained in all of us and we determined before we left last year that we needed to return in 2019.”
Elena, Dane, and Emily Olson-Volding, & Alysha Swallow
The Olson-Voldings are also founding Backpackers, having participated last year as leaders and members of “the advance team.” While Dane (3rd grade) and Elena (5th grade) are the youngest members of our group, they certainly don’t fall behind when it comes to work time. In fact, the rest of us were inspired last year by their energy, enthusiasm, and productivity — both in the forests and at play during our down time! No doubt it runs in the family, as Emily is also one to go above and beyond, as is grandmother Lindy who was a strong leader last year. We’ll miss you this year, Lindy! However, joining the Olson-Volding family this year is their nanny and close family friend, Alysha Swallow, who is thrilled to be able to share this experience with the family. She is a terrific addition to the group!
“We get a lot of positive feedback when we tell people we are going on this trip,” they said, “especially because of how young we are. We are strong, driven people and we are excited to lead by example.”
Abed joined the iLEAD staff last year and quickly fit right in. He facilitates the robotics course, coaches e-sports, is the IT specialist at SCVi, and is now excited to make his first trek with the Cultural Bridges Backpacks Full of Hope project. He recalls hearing about the trip from last year’s participants and thinking, “Why didn’t I go with them!?” He has a passion to help others and believes that if you have the ability to help and make a difference, then you have the moral obligation to do so. Abed is an energetic, fun-loving, and hard-working addition to the team and we are thrilled to have him!
Connor & Amber Raskin
Connor (11th grade) is a founding learner with SCVi/iLEAD and a second-year veteran of Backpacks Full of Hope, as is his mother Amber, co-founder of SCVi and iLEAD Schools. Together, Connor and Amber were the initial impetus for “Backpacks Full of Hope.” It was they who were the driving force in 2017, rallying the school community to take action. In fact, Connor designed the BFOH logo that the group carries on their T-shirts and yes, actual backpacks! Connor and Amber have continued their leadership roles this year doing whatever it takes to move the project forward.
Connor enthusiastically asserts, “To be able to go to another region and lend a hand in whatever way I can sounds very exciting and is something I love to do. There is always work to be done and you can never give enough help.”
Having enrolled at SCVi in kindergarten and now in 9th grade, Luke is on his second Backpacks mission. When he was approached about joining the team last year, his answer came before the invitation was even fully extended, “I’m in!” And he proved to be unstoppable as we replanted the Puerto Rican forests, even amidst the heat, humidity, and difficult terrain.
When asked why he goes when he already has such a busy schedule, Luke replied, “This project changed the way I kind of looked at the world; it gave everyone who went on the trip a better understanding of the outside world. How lucky we are to have what we have — a roof over our heads, clean water, a school; the list goes on. I feel driven to go because there are people in need, and I want to make a difference in their lives.”
Mario Robles (11th grade) has been at SCVi for 5 years now. This is his first year participating in Backpacks Full of Hope. In fact, this is his first time leaving California, which is a really exciting prospect for him!
“This trip means much to me,” Mario says, “not only because it is a fantastic experience, but it’s also a good way to help others and give a hand to people that really need help.”
He hopes to get experience and lots of smiles from the people of Puerto Rico.
Adam & Jamie Simpson
Adam (11th grade) and his mother Jamie join the BFOH project this year, and what a dynamic team they are! Both bring such a strong and positive energy to everyone around them. Between a full load of IB (International Baccalaureate) courses, sports, theater, and extra-curricular projects, Adam stays quite busy. But the opportunity to meet the needs of those who are struggling really spoke to Adam.
“I just want to be a positive force and help,” said Adam. For Jamie, it was important to support her son and his school.
“When I realized how badly Puerto Rico was still reeling from the hurricane a year and a half ago, I just knew we had to do something,” she asserted. “I hope that my son is able to realize that while we live in a prosperous country, not all Americans are sharing in that prosperity. We need to be there to give those less fortunate a hand up.”
Kailey & Charlene Spiteri
Although they were not able to join the team on the island last year, Kailey, a senior at SCVi, and her mother Charlene have been a huge part of the Backpacks team since its inception. They have both been instrumental in our fundraising efforts during both missions. But when they decided to travel with the team this year, they really kicked it into high gear. This service trip is something that they are truly passionate about. Kailey was excited when the 2019 trip was announced and she just knew she had to be a part. Charlene is looking forward to making a difference while working alongside friends and family. “I think this kind of work brings out the best in people and lasts a lifetime,” reflects Charlene.
Jadon introduces himself best:
“Hello, I am Jadon Valdez, a sophomore at SCVi. I have been a student at SCVi for a year now and this will be my first Cultural Bridges/Backpacks Full of Hope trip and I’m really excited about going. Last year, I had several friends attend the Puerto Rico trip and when they came back and shared their stories, I was bound and determined to join the next trip. I am looking forward to making a change in an environment where help is needed and so important. I’m hoping to experience how hard work and working together for such an important cause, can bring such happiness and pride to humanity. I’m excited to help those in need and build new friendships. I have been working on fundraising since the beginning of the school year and raised enough to pay for my trip. I have attended SCVi family restaurant nights, sold 25 Score Cards and stood outside selling See’s candy, and it all paid off. When people ask me about the trip and what we will be doing, I tell them we will be planting trees, building sustainable housing and providing necessities for people still in need on the island. The reactions are priceless. People cannot believe a kid my age even cares about stuff like this.”
Serving as the advance team this year, Tim has served a valuable role coordinating our group’s accommodations, travel, itinerary, and many other details. He has communicated readily with all of the other members of the trip as well as our contacts on the island to make this year’s service trip the best possible experience for us, as well as those we are serving.
“I’ve traveled throughout the world for over a decade now and have developed a passion for intercultural understanding,” Tim explained, “So it is important to me to help facilitate that connection for our learners and their families.”
Participating as a chaperone on last year’s trip forever changed Matt’s life. “It was remarkable to be able to roll up my sleeves and help those who most need it in a time of crisis. To see the gratitude and renewed hope in the eyes of those we served was so touching.” But what touched Matt equally profoundly was to see our learners experience the same sense of efficacy. Matt developed a deep love for “The Enchanted Island” of Puerto Rico and is honored to be able to return.