Local students left this week to travel to Central America to see first hand the positive impact of community service and global citizenship.
About 16 McCracken County High School students and three teachers left Thursday to travel to Nashville, Tenn., to catch a flight to El Salvador on Friday to serve the orphanages, homeless and poor populations before returning late Tuesday. Basic expenses for the service-learning trip, the fourth consecutive year for county students, were paid by a grant from the McDonald's charity, according to Starfish Orphan Ministry of Paducah director Laura Roberts.
"There are obviously so many benefits to the people over there on the ground," she said. "But to see firsthand for students that you can make a difference in the world is a really impactful thing."
But money to meet the needs of the communities depends 100 percent on student fundraising. Although there is no set amount, the more available monetary resources, the more good deeds the group can accomplish. McCracken students have raised about $1,900 toward the trip with most of the funding earmarked for materials to build a home, according to Roberts.
Students will visit government and private orphanages to spend time with children, build structures for families, and construct and pass out 150 meals to the homeless population.
The experience is often a life-changing and broadening one for students who see the effects of extreme poverty and hunger. Student growth is often seen when discussing their international experience in college, scholarship an professional applications and interviews, Roberts said.
"Trips like this one give students a richer background to draw from," she said. "After they get back, so many students want to travel back and help more."
McCracken County High School chemistry teacher Shaun Rathgeber, who will travel with the group for the second time, said due to the hard work of students in raising money, the group will be leave a physical example of their time abroad. He said the group will hopefully help the lives of a few families and orphans by spending time and learning from them.
"It shows students as well as teachers how little some people have," he said. "It's really an eye-opening experience that will be rewarding in ways that students don't even realize."
Another Starfish Ministries trip with about 25 West Kentucky Community & Technical College students will travel to El Salvador for a similar service-learning trip on March 14. Fundraising is ongoing for the group's travel expenses. A spaghetti lunch fundraiser is set from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 23 in the Starfish office at 1000 Broadway. Anyone interested in helping can contact Roberts at 270-519-7340 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.