Autumn Temple (left) and Arianna Neromiliotis of Teenagers, Inc., are seen painting a house during a previous trip to Guatemala. Autumn, 17, of Mt. Airy, attends Springside School. Arianna, 29, of Mt. Airy, is a chaperone and has been with Teens, Inc., since it started in 1997.

by Paula M. Riley

Gratitude. Thanksgiving. Appreciation.

For the local teenagers who perform service with Teens, Inc. in Guatemala, gratitude is the central theme when reflecting on their experiences.

“I love going on this trip because it gives me a new gratitude of the many things I have in my life and helps put my life back into perspective,” said Brendan Dwyer, who has gone on the service trip for the past two summers. “The genuine joy and gratitude of the people we come in contact with in Guatemala is inspiring and almost shocking in a way because these people who have almost nothing act like they have everything.”

In July, Brendan will join 13 other teenagers and travel to Guatemala to work with God’s Child Project, an ecumenical not-for-profit organization serving the Antigua region and its slums. This is the third year Teenagers, Inc. has traveled to Guatemala. Again this summer they will build homes, work at a homeless shelter, care for malnourished children and bring much needed medical, educational and personal supplies.

For Marianne Dwyer, Director of Teens, Inc., Guatemala is the perfect location for this type of service work. “This forgotten Third World country has had its share of civil war, land deprivation of the native Mayans and the fourth highest malnourished children’s rate in the world.”

Seeing those malnourished children at Casa Jackson Malnutrition Center had a huge impact on Olivia Dean, who is also returning to Guatemala this year. “These kids are so sweet, despite their issues. I love playing with the kids and feeding them.”

Brendan is also moved by his interaction while bathing and feeding the younger children. “Hugging and holding the babies at the malnourished children’s centers is a very special part of the trip… Holding them in your arms and watching them squeeze out a smile, even in their pain and anguish, is an extraordinary feeling. This trip made me realize that if I am capable of helping others, then I should never hesitate to do so.”

When he speaks to audiences about traveling to Guatemala on this mission trip, Brendan quotes Margaret Mead: “It takes a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Olivia Dean knows exactly what it takes to change the world. “I love going to Guatemala so much,” she said, grinning widely. “The people there make me feel so good about myself. They are so thankful for the littlest thing that we do. I know I am making their lives better.”

Some of their efforts may seem “little,” but a closer examination of the work assignments in Guatemala will show that these teenagers are using mind, heart and lots of muscle during their volunteer work. For example, Pat O’Donnell described the effort expended to build a home.  “We start by digging a really big hole; that’s the first step!” The entire job, including sawing wood for the frame, painting drywall, making and pouring cement, and nailing on a tin roof is done without any electrical tools and completed all by the volunteer teenagers, side-by-side with the Guatemalan family for whom they are building the house.

All the building materials are paid for by Teenagers, Inc., and the final products are four 8 by 12-foot homes that, unlike their original shacks, will have cement floors to prevent infections and be strong enough to protect families from the weather.

At the end of these long days, the teenagers come together as a group and offer reflections on their experiences. They share their observations, feelings and experiences in a discussion facilitated by Marianne Dwyer. After this, the teens return to their respective hosts — middle class Guatemalan family homes who host one to two Teens, Inc. volunteers during their stay.

In preparation of this year’s trip, the teens are collecting school, medical, sports and building supplies. Residents can donate school, art and first-aid supplies, including prescription medicines. They are also accepting small bottles of toiletries and dental supplies and soccer, basketball and baseball equipment as well as tools such as saws, trowels, levels, screwdrivers and hammers.

These items can be dropped on Friday nights from 7:30-10:30 p.m. at the Teen Center, 105 Bethlehem Pike (across from Chestnut Hill East train station) or on Sunday mornings at Our Mother of Consolation Church, 9 East Chestnut Hill Ave. Donations are being collected until July 3. Teenagers will pack these items and take them to Antigua, the town in Guatemala where the work is done. Monetary donations are still being accepted!

For more information or to make a donation, contact Marianne Dwyer at 215-242-4976, or