Beyond borders: Bronxite provides relief in Mexico

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While Bronx resident and Springfield College sophomore Natalie Flores chose to spend spring break in the likely location of sunny Mexico, her purpose was far from ordinary.               

Flores was one of 13 students chosen from the college to participate in a spring break service trip in Tepoztlan, Mexico.

“Natalie Flores exemplifies Springfield College’s emphasis on service to others as an essential element in the education of a well-rounded human being and future leader,” Springfield College director of student volunteer programs Charlene Elvers said.

For a week the students renovated their temporary home at the dilapidated YMCA Camp Camomilha, which houses and educates impoverished children. They also met with families throughout the poverty-stricken area to hand out donations.

“It amazes me how these families live,” Flores, a resident of Topping Avenue, said recalling a household of three little girls, a mother and grandmother all occupying a small, one room home.

Encountering similar situations throughout her stay, Flores said she was continually shocked at how spirits soared in the most difficult of circumstances.

“It just encouraged us to work harder,” she explained.

Joining a group of volunteers from the Universidad YMCA of Mexico City, Flores and her fellow classmates built a storage shed and varnished furniture at Camp Camomilha. In the village, they also dedicated their time to paint a church gazebo and basketball court.

“The services that Natalie and our other students performed were greatly needed and very much appreciated,” Elvers said.

In order to provide the greatest amount of assistance to the community, each student was allotted only one backpack for their belongings during the trip. Their other two suitcases were dedicated entirely to donations.

“We wanted to bring as much stuff as we could to donate,” Flores explained. “I started packing early because I wanted to make sure the essentials made it in the backpack.”

And it was worth it.

Flores said she’d never forget the joy and sense of accomplishment that came from providing such a simple service to the village’s poor. “Just seeing how they enjoy life when they have so little,” she explained, was a priceless reward.

“It was important in their own development as socially aware persons to have this first-hand experience with extreme poverty, to think more about human responsibility and to explore how they can use their abilities to improve life for other people,” Elvers explained.

Flores agreed completely. “I have nothing to complain about, nothing.”

Having previously made a similar trip to Africa, Flores said she’d never stop serving others. “I love helping people out, it’s one of my passions,” she said. “You feel good because you know you did something.”

While Flores said the college only allows a student to apply for one spring break service trip, next year she hopes to be chosen for a co-chair position to help organize and plan the next journey to Mexico.

“You have to cherish life and education because everything you have, you have for a reason,” she said passionately. “God gives you everything for a reason.”

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