Lifetouch Memory Mission 2019: A Transformative Experience

 

By Ivelisse “Ive” Castro, National PTA NSR (National Service Representative)

What an honor and a privilege it was to represent the National PTA staff on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission. I was thrilled to share this experience with Esther Parker (National PTA Elections Committee), Rose Acerra (New Jersey PTA President) and Hoang Bui (Secretary/Treasurer of the Iowa PTA.)

This year Lifetouch focused on building hope in the community of Juncos, Puerto Rico by taking a team composed of Lifetouch employees and Shutterfly employees, school administrators and members of national education groups such as ASAA, NAESP, NASSP, NSBA, National PTA and others to serve in rebuilding the Colegio Bautista of Juncos, a K-8 school that’s part of the First Baptist Church of Juncos.

Juncos is south-southwest of the National Park of El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest. The loss of basic utilities such as power and water only compounded the impact Maria had across the island of Puerto Rico. Among other devastating losses, the damage to schools in the area was severe.

This one-week mission took us first to Atlanta. I was intrigued. I live in Miami, Fla., so I wondered: Why go north to then go south? Why spent two days out of seven available days in Atlanta? Why not travel directly to Puerto Rico to have more time serving there? In Atlanta, I found the answer: Because when you want 42 people to work together as a team, to not be just helpers but servants, to have an enriching, transformative and memorable experience, you need to start by building your team and setting the foundation for success.

On Tuesday evening we traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, we arrived in Juncos and got divided into teams to work on different projects.

After construction on Saturday, we visited the homes of different families in the area to learn more about them. While driving to one of these homes, a student who came with us to translate for the group said something that summed up the spirit of the community.  He said, “I don’t like people asking about what happened to us before, during and after Hurricane Maria. That’s the past. We managed. We survived. We became stronger on our own as a result of it.”

On Sunday, we participated in the church’s service where they warmly thanked us for all we “gave” them—in fact, they gave us more than they can ever imagine. That day, Lifetouch distributed printed pictures of the students taken previously that same week.

This year, Lifetouch accommodated Puerto Rico PTA students from our Missionary Christian Academy PTA, and Kabod Christian Academy PTA. Our students and state leaders made us proud. If you want to get a sense of our time in Puerto Rico, I recommend that you watch these three Facebook Live videos featuring National PTA, the Puerto Rico PTA and their local units:

1) The National PTA team session

2) MCA & Julia Justiniano session

3) Kabod and Vivian Ruiz session

I’m so glad National PTA has this relationship with Lifetouch because I’m not aware of any other opportunity that brings the national education community together to learn and serve other education communities that teach us a lot about them and about ourselves.

I hope we will all continue to support the Lifetouch Memory Mission project by donating (funds will go to the 2020 mission) and by applying to join future missions—the 2020 Lifetouch Memory Mission will be in the Dominican Republic. I can assure you: you’ll gain more than what you’ll give.

This experience will live in me forever! Thank you, Lifetouch and my Memory Mission family. Thank you, National PTA, for the honor of being a representative of the National PTA family. Thank you to my Puerto Rican friends and Puerto Rico PTA family.