Giving Back

 Oak Knoll students have ‘life-changing experience’ building homes, teaching children in Mexico

Pictured, from left, are Samantha Pearson ’16, Sydney Pearson ’20, Lindley Hall '18, Tietjen Spoor '20, Caroline Hall '20, Valerie Nieves '18, Asher Marie Coates '18 and Kathryn Flanagan ’17.  Credits: Courtesy of Oak Knoll

SUMMIT, NJ -  A group of current and former Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child students kicked off their summer by building homes and raising spirits in a village near Tijuana, Mexico.

Lindley Hall ’18, of New Providence; Asher Marie Coates ’18, of New Providence; Valerie Nieves ’18, of Berkeley Heights; Sydney Pearson ’20, of Summit; and Caroline Hall ’20, of New Providence; and Tietjen Spoor ’20, of New Vernon; were joined by alumnae Kathryn Flanagan ’17, of Green Village, and Samantha Pearson ’16, of Summit, in a journey to Mexico last month with the Presbyterian Church at New Providence.

The Church partnered with California-based Amor Ministries during the trip, in which upperclassmen arrived on June 24, building two houses, while the underclassmen arrived six days later, helping to build an additional six houses. All students returned stateside on July 8.

Sign Up for E-News

A typical day for the Oak Knoll students included waking up as early as 5 a.m., arriving at the worksites by 7:30 a.m. and returning to the group’s campsite by 6 p.m. Student accommodations, which included tents without plumbing or electricity, helped them experience firsthand the lifestyle of the people they were helping.

Oak Knoll students also helped run a Vacation Bible School for village children.

Hall, Coates, Nieves, Flanagan and Pearson have embarked on service trips with the church in the past, traveling last year to the Red Lake Nation in Minnesota, where they learned about Native American culture while teaching children, providing maintenance to homes and some much-needed TLC to an antiquated church.

Coates called the Mexico trip a “life-changing experience” that built off her involvement of service at the church and Oak Knoll.

Some of her favorite parts of the trip were bonding with the families she was helping.

“The final part to building a house is the dedication, where we pray for the family and give them a Bible. This experience will stay with me forever because it is so humbling to listen to the family express their gratitude,” she said. “This left a lasting impact on me because I know that the family we built a house for will never forget us and I will never forget them, and knowing that means the world to me.”

Coates acknowledged the challenge of adapting to a different lifestyle during the trip, but said she appreciated being able to disconnect from the world of technology and social media.

“It really allowed me to focus on my relationship with God and bond with my team,” she said, pointing to the times where she and her friends would sit around a campfire or enjoy sunrise runs.

“This left a lasting impact on me because it reminded me not to take things for granted,” she said.

Hall agreed with Coates about the benefits of removing herself from modern conveniences.

“It is drastically different from what I am used to, but I can’t complain. The families that we built the houses for have lived like that for their entire lives,” she said. “Seeing how happy they were without all of the luxuries made me recognize that we don't need any of that to enjoy life.”

Hall called the trip an “amazing” experience that “blew away all of my expectations.” She further noted she was able to communicate with the villagers using the skills she had learned in Spanish classes.

For Pearson, “seeing the kids’ faces light up” was extremely rewarding and among her favorite parts of the trip.

“This trip reminded me how blessed I am to be living under a roof, going to a good school and having food on my plate at every meal when others don’t have those luxuries,” she said. “I realized how lucky I am to have what I do and I am so grateful. I can’t wait to go back.”

Nieves agreed and said she enjoyed interacting with the villagers, especially the children, and that the trip helped her gain invaluable experience working in a team setting.

“I loved connecting with the kids and forming friendships with them. It was a great experience overall. This trip definitely made me realize the hard work that goes into building houses and that every member on a team is valuable,” she said.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Sleep out at Covenant House

June 18, 2018

I can enjoy the same movies over and over like it were the first time to see them.  My kids roll their eyes at this.  Well, many unimaginable things happen as you become a certain age, and you tend to learn to accept those things graciously as gift.   But I remember the movie “The Blind Side.”  Until I saw that movie, I didn’t know homeless children ...

The Grove at Connell Park Hosts a Home for Good Dog Rescue Adoption Event: Wednesday, June 27

June 21, 2018

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Home for Good Dog Rescue presents an adoption event from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27 at The Grove at Connell Park located on Connell Drive in Berkeley Heights. (Rain Date June 28)

Click here to apply to adopt:

About Home for Good Dog Rescue: Home for Good Dog Rescue (HFGDR) is a 100 percent foster-based, non-profit ...

Moms Helping Moms Foundation Receives Overwhelming Support from Community to Help Mothers this Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is often celebrated by showering the women in our lives with beautiful flowers, heartfelt cards, and taking them on special outings to show them how much they mean to us. Yet, for many low-income mothers living in our community, they struggle each day to provide the basics for their babies.

Diapers are a necessity yet one in three families in the United States lack an ...

New Providence Recreation Offers Adult Summer Programs

New Providence Recreation is accepting registrations for adult evening and daytime programs that run June 25th – August 31st.  Most of the eight to nine-week sessions are under $65; several programs are free for NP residents!  All levels of fitness and those returning to exercise are welcome.

Programs are offered starting at 6 a.m.. If you are seeking weight loss, core body ...

Summit Community Blood Drive is Sunday; First 50 donors Will Get a Free Union Theater Movie Pass

The weather may have just started to warm up, but New Jersey Blood Services (NJBS) is already urging the public to donate blood as we head into the summer months.  With schools closing and vacations scheduled, less people donate blood from June through August but transfusions are still needed for local patients.   

“We’re especially thankful to our dedicated donors ...

Missing in North Plainfield: Have You Seen Angel?

June 21, 2018

NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Have you seen Angel?

Angel is a seven year old black and white Husky last seen near Westervelt Ave. and Manning Ave. on June 16. Her family says she is very friendly. 

If found, call Andrea at  888-466-3242.


Linden Man Arrested After Explosion in Cranford

June 21, 2018

CRANFORD - On Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 7:06 p.m. the Cranford Police Department received
information that an explosion was heard in the area of Raritan Road and Summit Terrace. Through
a joint investigation with the Union County Prosecutor's Office and Linden Police Department, the
Cranford Police Department Detective Bureau identified a suspect through surveillance video ...

What's Hot and What's Not

Summer is a great time to take a step back, sip a cool beverage, and take a look at what’s going on in the world of college admissions.  Departments use the summer to evaluate how their year went and plan on any changes they want to make for the fall.  Did they over-enroll? Under-enroll?  What application materials were useful to them?  Which were redundant or time ...

Cool Ways to Save Money This Summer

As the summer temperatures rise, home cooling costs rise as well. But there are ways to help save money without sweating the heat:

To increase your cooling system’s efficiency by as much as 20%, get it checked out for summer.  A technician will clean the condenser, make sure you have the optimal amount of refrigerant, and ensure the airflow over the coil is ...