Local Students Leave Mark on International Project

group of students gathered around mural in costa rica

(DRESDEN, TN) – Usually planet-conscious travelers seek to reduce the marks they leave behind as they explore new cultures. But a recent group of primarily Weakley County students left an imprint in Costa Rica that will be visible for years to come. 

During spring break, 14 high school students from Dresden and Gleason, a Bethel University junior and 5 adults joined a collaborative effort of Bethel University (BU) Global Studies and Global Citizen Adventure Corps (GCAC) in a travel service project in Atenas, Costa Rica. The service portion of the adventure focused on ensuring that the Rescue Center of Costa Rica’s message of caring for both animals and the environment is amplified. Following the outline of graphic designer Jai Chandler Mathis, students brought a brightly colored mural depicting both flora and fauna to life.

Among the requirements to receive a scholarship for the newly created nonprofit Global Citizen Adventure Corps is community service at home and on the international site. Seven scholarship recipients were among a recent group of 20 traveling to Costa Rica. Their service projects included work on a habitat for injured macaws using recycled materials. Participants in the travel service projects can receive college credit as well. The March 2023 trip included Stacie Freeman, Julie Hill, Jai-Chandler Mathis, Myra Morgan, Grant Turner, Kiley Corbin, Hallee Young, Keely Spain, Rachel Escudero, Cora Ogg, Lucy Curry, Keely Heisler-Swatzell, Taiylor Carter, Marlee Scronce, Harlie Walker, Eli Patterson, Aaron Fulcher, Brennan Drerup, Alayna Owens, and Karen Campbell.

Students also invested sweat equity in building another home for one of the many injured or rescued residents of the center. They utilized recycled materials, mesh, wire, concrete, and lots of patience to slowly start the wall of a habitat for two macaws, no longer able to fly. 

Daniela Cordero, biologist and head coordinator of volunteers for the Center, said the staff of ten rely on 20-80 volunteers each day to help care for the rescued birds, monkeys, sloths, and other animals. A tour of the property educates guests on the outcome of the country’s outlawing of exotic pets in 2012 and the growing need to create habitations for those so used to humans they can no longer survive in the wild. The Center also accepts injured animals and rehabilitates them for eventual release. 

“Volunteers learn how important it is to protect the animals that are endangered and how important it is to have nature in our life,” said Cordero of the daily duties of feeding and providing both housing and enrichment experiences for the animals.

Paris natives Danny and Melanie Guinn provide human housing for trips led by BU Global Studies Director and GCAC co-founder Stacie Freeman at least four times a year. Freeman says their generosity allows students to see various aspects of Costa Rican culture as they interact with Spanish-speaking cooks and drivers and enjoy treats in the nearby ex-pat community of Atenas. 

Other cultural experiences included a trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, a hike to waterfalls, and an educational tour of a family-owned organic coffee farm. 

Myra Morgan, 15, said listening to the farm owner explain the difficulties of organic farming and how he grapples with using a term like “organic” when some may consider it as only a marketing ploy and others adhere to its principles helped her rethink her own purchases. 

“We have a bigger impact than we think we do,” said the Palmersville native and DHS freshman. “Buying coffee, for example, which is a small thing, thinking about where we buy it really matters. I definitely think I should do more research on the things I purchase, asking where it comes from and what the impact is on the people who made it.”

A team of high school and college students and adults from primarily Weakley County spent spring break discovering more about the world and themselves as they traveled to Costa Rica on a service project that included completing a third mural at the Rescue Center of Costa Rica. Designed by graphic artist Jai Chandler Mathis and painted by students from Dresden and Gleason High Schools as well as Bethel University, the art helps spread the center’s message of protection for animals and nature. The trip was led by Stacie Freeman, Bethel University Global Studies Director and her fellow Global Citizen Adventure Corps co-founder Julie Hill.

Freeman, who has planned global service projects for 12 years in 8 different countries, launched GCAC with Union City entrepreneur Julie Hill to increase the number of economically disadvantaged youth reached by the travel service program. 

“As a new nonprofit we can now accept tax-deductible donations,” she explained. “Our first two trips this year meant nine students received scholarships. Since a scholarship requirement is 100 hours of community service at home and abroad, everyone receives a return on their investment.”

College credit is also a benefit as students traveling with the program must enroll in a sociology course taught by Freeman. 

Sixteen-year-old Grant Turner said his benefits began before the group left Nashville. A junior at DHS and resident of Martin, he helped coordinate one of several fundraising efforts members of the group organized to help pay for the trip. He enjoyed making it possible for fellow students to meet their financial goals by planning a fundraiser at Buff City Soap. The positive takeaways didn’t stop there, however.

“Once I got to Costa Rica and worked at the animal shelter, it showed me what good we can do as humans for the world,” he concluded. “I like knowing I can have a positive impact for people in need.” 

Other participants traveling with the group were Kiley Corbin, Hallee Young, Keely Spain, Rachel Escudero, Cora Ogg, Lucy Curry, Keely Heisler-Swatzell, Taiylor Carter, Marlee Scronce, Harlie Walker, Eli Patterson, Aaron Fulcher, Brennan Drerup, Alayna Owens, and Karen Campbell. 

For more information about Bethel Global Studies contact freemans@bethelu.edu. For more on GCAC, visit globalcitizenadventurecorps.org




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