A Ruskin missionary reflects on her experience

Charmaine Bondoc

Gini Barreda, Staff

For seven years, Academy of the Holy Names missionaries have been selected to be a part of the service trip to Ruskin, Florida. This year, I, along with 23 other young women, had the opportunity of traveling approximately 45 minutes away to a different world.

DAY ONE

After arriving at The Dorothy Thomas Girl Scout Camp, we immediately began a full inspection of our living quarters for the next five days. Everyone stayed in one large room where there are full lines of bunk beds on both sides of the room. There was a kitchen and large bathroom with three showers.

After unloading personal belongings, we gathered for a delicious meal of chicken and yellow rice with a side of Caesar salad. Dinner was followed by a small tour of the grounds as we made our way throughout 220 acres of land to begin a game of Man Hunt. The crew was divided into two teams, the seekers and the hiders.

DAY TWO

Despite the squeaky noises of the bunks, the girls slept like babies until awakened by chaperones Mrs. Judy Perrella, Mrs. Stephanie Zummo, Ms. Danielle Groenen , and Mrs. Brook Johnson. Our day commenced at 6:45 am as we rushed to dress and finally drive to the RCMA. The missionaries were divided into groups of about five or six missionaries they would working with for the remainder of the week. I had the pleasure of teaming up with students Aubrey McGuire, Charmaine Bondoc , Jenn Compton, Michelle Ebrada and Haley Ratchford.

My group arrived at the Wimauma RCMA, and walked to the office to introduce ourselves to the coordinator. She separated and put each of us with a different age group. The youngest bunch at our location were infants and the oldest were the 4-5 year-olds. Michelle and I arrived in the Pre-K2 room together, just in time for a breakfast of cream of wheat.

Twenty minutes. That was all it took for the pre-k children to become attached to us. They spent the entire morning glued to us as we played dress-up, built blocks, read books, and did projects with them.

After lunch, the crew gathered together back outside. We spent the rest of the afternoon sweeping pollen in the playground. When we had completed a hard day of labor and running around, we finished off with a scavenger hunt back at camp grounds.

Even though shower time took forever, we were finally able to complete our prayer service of the night and eventually go to sleep.

DAY THREE

I had trouble waking up this morning because my nose was completely stuffed. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one because Jackie Posada was not feeling well at all. She left for home later that day. We knew how much she wanted to be there so we understood her disappointment.

Our group made their way back to Wimauma to begin a new day of work. Our children were so excited that we had come back for another fun-filled day.

In the afternoon, I was looking forward to reuniting with my group to tidy the playgrounds. We baked in the hot sun as we raked up leaves and stuffed them into about 20 different trash bags. We often took water breaks because we were so tired and dehydrated. The RCMA Director also asked us to disinfect the playground toys. We were picked up from Wimauma a little before 5 o’clock by Mrs. Zummo. A quick stop was made at the Walmart before heading back to Camp Dorothy Thomas.

That night, our activity consisted of weaving newspaper pieces together to make a “sit-upon.” The chaperones told us this seat would come in handy on Thursday night when we had our dinner outside.

DAY FOUR

I am sad to say that today was my last day at the Wimauma RCMA. Saying good bye to the children was the most difficult task I’ve had so far.

We arrived this morning at the usual time. Michelle and I handed out the supplies that each teacher had requested for the classroom. Ms. Maria had asked for a basketball hoop so that the kids could enjoy tossing a ball into the hoop. We spent most of the morning installing the hoop at the tree house playground. The kids gathered around in awe, watching us build it. The smiles of gratitude that I received on that day are ones that I will remember forever.

There was also a request for two gardens to be made – one for each Pre-k classrooms. Our group spent most of the afternoon mixing soil and dirt, hammering small fences, and plopping plants into the earth. This was probably my favorite task so far. I had never planted anything in my entire life and doing this so that the kids could have, was extremely rewarding.

That night, Charmaine’s group was in charge of dinner. Lucky for us, we chose the easiest meal to prepare – pizza from Pizza Hut and a tossed salad. The prayer service entailed making charm bracelets with different colored beads. Each color had a different meaning. I still remember mine: love, hope, spirituality, future, and peace.

DAY Five

I woke up this morning more excited than ever to travel to a brand new RCMA. This time I would meet the kids at the day care located in a neighborhood called Estancia.

This RCMA looked nothing like the Wimauma location. In Wimauma, the day care was essentially made up of portables. Here, there is one building, which is not very large. It is also surrounded by apartments.

This time, there were only two classes, which were both made up of Pre-k kids. The coordinator gave us a tour and introduced us to the children we would spend the remainder of the trip with. She also asked us to put together a show for Friday of reading the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to both classes.

The rest of our time was spent with the babies playing on the playground. An adorable little girl approached me and asked me to play with her and watch her pop bubbles. She told me her name was Melissa. We spent at least half an hour popping bubbles – it just never seemed to get old for her.

We finally had to put the children down for naps after lunch. That was when the hard work came. There were flowers for us to remove from their pots and to plant them near the playground. Following that job, we spent the rest of the time painting a picnic benches as well as a wooden deck outside.

I decided that once we left to make our usual rounds at the store, we needed to buy bubble soap for Melissa as well as everyone else. Arriving back at the sleeping quarters, we saw that the bonfire had already been created, as is the tradition on the last night. Everyone throws in any left-overs into the fire pit to cook and eat.

For the final prayer service, every person sat in a large circle, and each shared an experience about what they learned from the trip. After thinking about what I would say, I realized that the most important lesson for me was that “work begins at home.” Just the mere fact that the impoverished town of Ruskin, Florida, is only 45 minutes from Academy blows me away. Hopefully we were able to touch these kids’ lives as much as they touched ours.

I will never forget my first experience as a missionary. I was able to immerse myself in a different culture and understand some of the difficult situations that those who are less fortunate have to live through. This is only the beginning of my work as a missionary; I look forward to future opportunities that will allow me to be of service to others.