By Gail McCarthy
---- — Cape Ann teens involved in YMCA programs have traveled near and far in unique programs — one involving international community service and another giving them an inside look at state government.
In a first-of-a-kind trip for the regional YMCA, a group of nine teens — five from Cape Ann — who went on the organization’s first international service trip to help a reforestation project in Nicaragua.
Rockport Teen Center Director Nikki Marin said she always dreamed of taking a community service experience to an international level. This past February school vacation week, the teens traveled with YMCA staff from Cape Ann and Marblehead to Central America where they planted trees.
“By reforesting this area of Nicaragua, it will raise the water table, which in the long run will bring more clean water to the area,” explained Marin.
Participants from the Cape Ann YMCA were Michael Collins, Andrew Widtfeldt and Shannon Gallagher of Gloucester; and Katharine Boucher and Alexandra “Ali” Steer of Rockport.
The YMCA of the North Shore also launched its first service-learning trip in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The group has organized a yearly trip to New Orleans to repair homes damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“After three very successful years of the New Orleans trip, we were finally ready for an international trip,” said Marin. “Between going to the YMCA World Council in Hong Kong and the YMCA International Conference in San Francisco, I learned a lot about different international opportunities. In the end, I decided that El Porvenir program was our best choice.”
El Porvenir works in remote rural villages that lack access to most basic services and are too small to receive assistance from other organizations, according to its website.
Marin also talked to several Cape Ann residents through the Rockport Rotary club and her church in Magnolia who worked with the program and who gave the organization high marks. El Porvenir’s mission focuses on improving the lives of poor people in Nicaragua through sustainable self-help water, sanitation and reforestation projects.
The teens received an inside view of how the poor live. They worked alongside the villagers, many whose homes consist of four wooden posts around which plastic is wrapped.
“The trip made a tremendous impact on these teens,” said Marin. “Here were two totally different groups of people working together for a common goal. I heard a lot of teens say that the trip made them realize how little they need to live on to be happy.”
Marin said the value of the service learning trips is that the teens return home with a desire to serve their local communities.
“They are inspired to live lives of service,” she said.
During April school vacation, 15 Cape Ann teens will take part in the annual trip to New Orleans. A benefit for this trip featuring a Mardi Gras style concert with Grammy winner Charles Neville and Henri Smith and his band will take place at the Larcom Theatre in Beverly on Saturday, April 6. The concert was rescheduled from February because of the Blizzard of 2013.
Teens and state government
Meanwhile, three Cape Ann teens learned firsthand about public speaking, policy debates and writing legislation when students from all over the state attended the three-day Massachusetts Youth in Government conference at the State House in Boston.
Cape Ann students who attended were Kaiti Maddox of Rockport, Yishai Barth of Gloucester and Thomas Mortillaro of Gloucester.
During this conference, the teens took part in mock-government procedures, said Marin, the YMCA’s Cape Ann adviser.
She noted the event included debate that actually took place in the Senate and House of Representatives. The event covers the three main branches of government, legislative, judicial and executive. It even included the lobbyists, who try to influence the passage of bills, and the press who hurry to publish articles for their newspaper, “The Beacon.”
Mortillaro, a Rockport High senior, served as House chaplain for the event, and he spoke at the closing ceremonies, when he quoted from Hillel the Elder, an ancient leader, and he closed with his own words when he said: “Doing everything for everyone will leave your spirit dry, but being only to yourself, the world around you slowly dies.
“Let lose the inner you and never say never, and never take a no. And shake this big wide world with the truths in your heart that you hold,” he said.
Mortillaro who will attend college with a goal of earning a law degree.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.