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Zionsville Community High School students, grads return to Haiti for spring break

By Heather Lusk

Most college freshmen wouldn’t think to sacrifice their spring break to build a house. But most college freshmen haven’t been impacted by the children and families in Haiti like a group of former Zionsville Community High School students.

For the past several years, these students have been spending their high school spring break near Port-au-Prince building homes, refurbishing a soccer field and leading sports camps for Haitian youth. And although they no longer attend ZCHS, this year is no different.

Twelve college students from Indiana, Purdue and Samford universities will spend the week of March 15 to 22 digging and preparing the foundation of a house. A few days later, 33 current ZCHS students will finish the first house and start work on a second one. That second house will be completed by a Zionsville high school group in the fall. In the meantime, Haitian masons hired by the group will prepare the walls, which will provide building stability and employment to local workers.

When they’re not working on the house during their trip, the students on both trips will teach sports camps in several area towns, assist in the medical clinic and provide help wherever else it is needed in a ministries complex where they are stationed.

The college students consist mostly of recent Zionsville graduates who have visited Haiti in years past and found the experience so meaningful they decided to form their own group so they could continue to help others.

“We were so sad we couldn’t go with the high school anymore,” said Lizzy Follstad, who along with fellow graduate Luke Whitaker organized the group of college students.

Dave Poindexter, president and CEO of I’m In, initiated the first ZCHS trip four years ago and provided direction to the college students when they decided they didn’t want their mission trip experience to end.

“We got them connected with the same mission in Haiti, but we just made the connection,” he said. “They’re working directly with those guys.”

“It’s been great to see that they’ve taken ownership of this,” said Kelly Antcliff, athletic director at the middle schools and sponsor of the trip. “They bought into this vision and are passionate about going down there and making a difference.”

It’s that passion about making a difference that Poindexter appreciates.

“They did some great stuff while they were in Haiti, but they come back and they do stuff on their own. They’re involved in service projects on college campuses,” he said. “We encourage kids of all ages to be involved in service projects locally, regionally and globally.”

Although home construction is the focus of the trip, a highlight of past trips has been spending time with the Haitian children. Despite the language barrier, the students find it easy to connect and interact with the kids who attend the sports camps and other programs.

“You don’t really need to talk,” said junior Colleen Leonard, who will be going to Haiti for the third time. “They use hand motions. There’s a lot of laughing.”

The group brings sidewalk chalk, crayons and paper for the children, but Leonard felt that paint was their favorite. The children painted rocks as a craft but also painted each other and the Zionsville students.

“The kids work harder than they probably ever have before, but it’s so rewarding,” Antcliff said. “They’re working right alongside a Haitian crew of workers.”

They also learn to live with less. Without technology they learn to connect and communicate differently, and that follows them back home, Antcliff said.

“We don’t need all of the things that we think are necessities here,” Follstad said. “I appreciate the happiness that they have from the simplest things.”

The trip has made such a difference in Leonard’s life that she would like to work in the medical field in poverty stricken foreign countries.

“They’re so content with so little they have,” she said. “It’s refreshing that they’re so joyful.”

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