By Jennifer Troyan

This month, I am writing a deeply personal story for our Good Works in the Community segment. This is not meant to be
a “look what I did” type thing. The reason for the share is to instill hope and encouragement.

There are many organizations and religious institutions that offer mission trips. I chose Food for the Poor (FFTP). I’ve
done volunteer work with this organization, all very rewarding, yet this trip was on another level for me personally. It has been a dream of mine for many years to go on a mission trip and I finally did it! Last month I went with a group to Kingston,
Jamaica. It was a remarkable experience.

Let me tell you what we accomplished:

  • Served breakfast at a homeless shelter. We had an opportunity to meet and speak with the residents and I made a connection with a lovely woman. As it turns out, we have the same name!
  • Went to the FFTP Jamaica complex to pack up food bags to distribute to two of the schools were going to visit. It was hot and still everyone was motivated. Our goal was to pack up 100 bags and we did 240 so there was more to share with people.
  • Visited several schools of various aged children and distributed food care packages to 100 parents. One of the schools put on a show of singing and drumming, showcasing their talent.
  • Spent time at home for children with disabilities. This was a hard one because I felt helpless there, however, the staff there do a wonderful job of taking care of the kids – they even have a farm business which supports their efforts.
  • We built a house in a day for this lovely woman! This was life-changing for her and she was beyond grateful. This was very moving to see, especially seeing where she was living and the conditions. Now she has a brand new 2-bedroom home!

I also visited a children’s home. This was the most meaningful experience for me. We visited the children and participated in activities with them such as building toys, making jewelry, coloring in coloring books, writing in journals, playing games, basketball, blowing bubbles and just talking and having fun.

One of my moms accompanied me on this trip (one of the children at the home thought she was my younger sister and my mom was of course thrilled!) However, when she left the table to talk to another child, I saw the kids’ faces. They looked sad and defeated. This is a children’s home with kids that were taken from their parents due to neglect or abuse and I felt called to share something with them. I shared with them that I just met my Mom 5 years ago, and while I don’t know what the future holds for these children, I let them know there is always hope and maybe they would find their families as well one day. They were so impacted by this.

A girl at the home made me a bracelet, and another wrote me the sweetest letter and thanked me for what I did for them. All I did was share my story with empathy and compassion with the intention of creating hope for them. I will be forever grateful for that little bit of time spent there and the opportunity to share. I could’ve easily been one of them. My story was different, I had a loving family and then had the great joy of adding to my family later in life. The kids may not remember me as time passes but I am sure they will not forget what I said and what we shared on that day.

I hope you get the chance to experience (or maybe you already are) the joy of sharing a most precious commodity –
your time with people who need help. Whether you travel somewhere, go abroad or find hometown options, consider
trying it (or keep doing it).

It has also been great to see the ripple effect of my sharing my stories and experience. People have shared
some incredible things with me in turn. I’ve seen many hearts open and am touched and honored. When it comes down to it, setting basic needs for survival aside, we all want to be seen, heard and know that we matter. When you are in a desperate situation without food, water, education and opportunity, that is where your focus will be.

One big lesson for me that I want to share with you is this: Be grateful for the things we “get to” complain about (of course, be grateful for the good things too!).

FFTP’s mission trip webpage says, “Don’t just travel the world. Change it.” It feels like you are making an impact when
you volunteer your time to help others because you see the people you are helping face to face and eye to eye.
Everything you do to help is having an impact and we are moving towards change.

Someone in my group said, “This will change your life.” They were so right. I know I can be a continued force for good and I’m going to keep this going!

Here’s a 2 minute video on what a mission trip is like so you can see for yourself. Consider volunteering and make a difference. It feels incredible.

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