Vuelta De Realidad Exchange Program – comments from our past volunteers

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Here’s what some of our volunteers have said about their experiences in Agua Prieta.

“My name is John Baird and I am the Director of Service Learning for the Scottsdale Unified School District. Service Learning links education to service and service to learning. The District just completed one full year of Service with Rancho Feliz. I would like to thank you and all of your staff for the all your collaborative efforts in an extremely beneficial Service partnership. This past year Scottsdale students and teachers attended the Mission 5 times for weekend service trips.

Your leadership accompanied with the fine staff you have in place has created an ongoing collaboration and partnership with 5 Scottsdale High Schools, 7 Middle schools and 21 Elementary schools. The entire District was involved in the collection of food, clothing and necessities sometime during the school year.

Thank you for all your hard work and dedication and we are looking forward to another fantastic year.” John S. Baird, Service Learning Coordinator, Scottsdale Unified School District, Scottsdale, Arizona

“Hello! I just posted some pictures on my Facebook profile of Rancho Feliz in 1989 when I stayed there for a few days. I can’t begin to tell you the impact that visit had on my life over the past 20 years. I was just researching and saw you were the founder and wanted to say “Thank you”. Feel free to check out the pictures in my album if you’re interested.” John Quinlan, Student Volunteer, Columbus, Ohio

“The week in Agua Prieta was an amazing experience. It was incredibly humbling to see the poverty that exists in this town; however, the most surprising thing was the degree of hospitality that the citizens exhibited. This week has given me a chance to reevaluate what my priorities are and how I can be of greater service to others.” Joseph Calvano, Student Volunteer, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Brotherhood of Hope

“Thank you for the learning opportunity of a life time! There is no better chance to learn compassion, love and interconnectedness of the world than you have provided to our young people. Thank you for changing the outlook of tomorrow’s leaders.” Doylene LaForge, Youth Group Coordinator, Springfield, Tennessee

“I have been bringing student volunteer groups to stay in the Rancho Feliz dormitory and work in Agua Prieta for the past 10 years. It is always a new eye opening experience for my groups. Many of the students have never experienced such poverty and done any manual labor. They learn how to work hard, sweat, get blisters and lay bricks. They always feel a great sense of accomplishment and want to continue to give back to people who are in need of help.” Jeff Perkins, Service Learning Coordinator, Verde Valley School, Sedona, Arizona

“Traveling to Mexico was a chance of a lifetime. I came to Aqua Prieta knowing nothing about the people and the environment in “the Barrios”. I have been moved an unbelievable amount in these past few days. Seeing the children play in the filthy streets with only shorts on made me aware of just how fortunate I am to live in the environment that I do. This was an experience to remember.” Hayley Hurst, Student Volunteer, Bishop’s School, La Jolla, California

“The KJZZ team was thrilled to have been given this opportunity to see the amazing work that you are accomplishing at Rancho Feliz and in the Agua Prieta Community.  Thank you for helping us experience a life enriching weekend.  We look forward to sharing our experience with Jim Paluzzi and other members of the KJZZ leadership team and will be thinking about ways that we can help further the work of you and the “Guardian Warriors.” Louis (Lou) Stanley – Associate General Manager, Development KJZZ/KBAQ, Executive Director, Friends of Public Radio Arizona

“My name is Michael Rucki and I am the Head of Middle School at Tesseract School, an independent school in Paradise Valley, Arizona. From October 23rd – 26th of this year, I, along with several middle school students, teachers, and parents, had the pleasure of serving in the community of Agua Prieta. Though I am not new to international service, this was my first experience with your group. I was overwhelmed by the organization, cleanliness, and hospitality of the experience. At our school, we strive to produce individuals who understand that they are citizens of the world. We believe that we all share in the onus of working towards social justice and equity. Our experience at Rancho Feliz has provided our students with a deep experience to reflect upon. Given the recent issues surrounding immigration in this country, I believe this brief couple of days has really enhanced our students understanding of this complex issue. The food, accommodations, and atmosphere at Rancho Feliz were electrifying throughout the day. Thank you to everyone for making our stay so rich and meaningful.” Michael Rucki, Head Master, Tesseract Middle School, Paradise Valley, Arizona

“Both Gil and Alejandro did more work than I can even imagine to make this whole collaborative experience come together, thank you, thank you, thank you so much!!! Each and every girl on this volleyball team has been impacted beyond their expectations and utterly impressed by how much of an effect we were able to make in such a short time. We were overwhelmed by the community’s enthusiasm and participation with us… we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. My hope now is that this impact lasts with the Agua Prieta community as much as it will surely last with us – so thank you so much for providing us with this opportunity. I sincerely hope that this won’t be the last time the Ryerson Rams see Agua Prieta – I know I’ll be back.” Kasandra Bracken, Student Volunteer, Captain – Ryerson University Women’s Volleyball Team, Toronto, Canada

“There is so much to say about my week here in Agua Prieta with Rancho Feliz. The people here have welcomed me and my brothers here with open arms. This week has been an eye opening experience, giving me a better understanding of how privileged I am a perspective I hope will stay with me for years to come.” Christopher Knight, Student Volunteer, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, Brotherhood of Hope

“The service trip to Mexico was the most inspirational trip I had ever taken in my life. I had never done too much work anywhere like that before so helping build shelters for the poor people of Agua Prieta made such an impact on my life views. It opened my eyes to how people live outside of Tucson and how one little act of kindness can change a person’s life. I loved this trip and would recommend it to anyone looking to broaden their views on life outside of their own.” Gabriela Colaleo, Student Volunteer, Catalina High School, Tucson, Arizona

“The Rancho Feliz complex is an important link in the success of Agua Prieta Family Shelters in building homes for the poor in Agua Prieta. In the 11 years I’ve been volunteering, staying at Rancho Feliz has allowed us to be more productive in our efforts while giving the volunteers the security of the Rancho Feliz complex. With the media reported troubles in Mexico it is extremely important to our volunteer outreach that we have a place where the volunteers are safe.  Thank you for all you’ve already accomplished in providing a safe secure environment in the Rancho Feliz complex.” Robert Martin, Adult Volunteer, Agua Prieta Family Shelters, Tucson, Arizona

“Our trip to Mexico has been the best experience of my life.  I had so much fun reaching out to these children who have lived such different and unfortunate lives than I.  Tears built up inside me when I realized that the children were as bare as the small houses built on the dirt floors made out of cardboard.  I would go back to Mexico right now if I could and help out as many families as possible.  I look forward to going back again next year.” Christina Wafer, Student Volunteer, Bishop’s School, La Jolla, California

“My week with Rancho Feliz in Agua Prieta proved inspiring, educational, and humbling. The organization not only provided an incredible service opportunity but also role models in the organization’s leaders. Despite the location of Agua Prieta, I never felt unsafe during my week of service. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve and learn about Agua Prieta, Mexico, and the poor through Rancho Feliz.” Matthew Hall, Student Volunteer, Boston University, Brotherhood of Hope

“For me, the most touching experience was the food distribution to over 300 very needy families. You could see the glow of pride in the teens faces as they passed out the food bags. There is no amount of money you can pay to give our teens this most humble experience. Yes they also broke a sweat and got a few blisters while helping to construct the floors and walls of 2 new barrio homes, but they loved the sense of purpose they gained.” Ernest Villicana, Volunteer Parent Chaperone, Seton Catholic High School, Tempe, Arizona

“While we were working it started to rain and it literally felt like someone was spraying a hose on my back but I just kept going and I realized that this roof was going to be here for them tonight so if it does rain tonight or tomorrow they are going to have a warm place to stay. Most of all I really feel like I helped someone out today and I put that extra effort to put whatever was going on in my life aside and really be there for somebody else.” Bailey McMorris, Student Volunteer, Armstrong Family Foundation Scholarship Program, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

“We went out to the barrio with our minds set to work hard. Our plan for the day was to mix cement and lay it down as a foundation for a new barrio house. This was extremely hard physical work; mixing cement with a shovel, water, and dirt. However, it became easier after seeing the family who was going to live in the house. They were so grateful it motivated me to work harder. We mixed and laid the cement for several hours and when we finally fished we could see the difference we had made. It was the start of a new house and a new beginning for the young family of 4. They were so appreciative, and I will never forget the joy we brought to their faces. Although the work was tiring it was totally worth it, and I feel like I made a difference. Through this experience I learned more about myself and the outside world. I will never forget the places and people I have met in Agua Prieta.” Jenna Wilson, Student, Volunteer, Service Learning, Chaparral High School, Scottsdale, Arizona

“Once again, our Seton High School group had a memorable and successful trip to Agua Prieta. I believe the main reason for its success is because of the way Alejandro and Nohemi operate. I truly appreciate how organized and efficient they are. The dorm was spotless and both Alejandro and Nohemi run ‘on time’ and have the operation running smoothly! More than anything, they always make themselves available in a kind and considerate manner. Their professionalism has made for an even richer experience for all of us who volunteer through Rancho Feliz.” Sally Falkner, Volunteer Parent Chaperone, Seton Catholic High School, Tempe, Arizona

“I learned that even though I am only one person, I can change lives.” Julie Brown, Student Volunteer

“I have a lot to think about on my return home. I am learning to love and serve in a deeper way. I learned not to find love for myself but that I will be fully satisfied in giving my love to others. Then I will find love. When can I come back?” Kenny Butler, Student Volunteer

“It reminds me of what is important in life and what is not. I ask myself, after I leave, what do I really need? It is in giving that you truly receive. This is truly service to humanity.” Bill Marcotte, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Tempe, Arizona

“As a high school senior looking back on my life, I can honestly say that the experiences I had in Mexico at Rancho Feliz have changed my life and have made me appreciate the world in which we all live. Prior to the two trips to Agua Prieta I had no world experience and was confined to the bubble I had lived in for my entire life. I wanted to go on this trip as a way to not only learn about the people of Mexico, but to learn about myself as well. I was completely unaware that by simply helping others, I would be pushing the limits of my maturity and developing into a better person. The trips that I went on were both completely different, but at the same time each one had a different lesson I was able to walk away with. I began to see that although we may seem like polar opposites on the outside, in reality everyone who inhabits this Earth is fundamentally the same. The lessons I have learned will stay with me throughout the rest of my life and hopefully others in my situation will learn them as well.” Josh Weiss, Student Volunteer, Catalina Foothills High School, Tucson, Arizona

“This was a very fun and productive trip, and I feel good to have helped people, and those we helped, helped me to realize how lucky I am and how little is truly needed to live.” Collin Burger, Student Volunteer, Torrey Pines High School, San Diego, California

“Finding the right words to describe our volunteer trip is difficult. The emotions and reflections from last week are only beginning to settle in. Thanks to Gil, Alejandro and the entire Rancho Feliz Family, our group had an experience that we will remember for a lifetime. As the week went by, it became clear that this is only the beginning of the relationship between our Volleyball Team and Rancho Feliz/Agua Prieta. We are already talking about how we can properly honor the things that we learned during this trip. I look forward to speaking with you again soon and continuing to build this relationship.” Dustin Reid, Teacher Volunteer, Head Coach – Ryerson University Women’s Volleyball Team, Toronto, Canada.

“I am so honored to have been able to bring a team of high school students to do work with you in Mexico for the last several years. Every young person that I bring on the trip has a unique experience. Many of them come from affluent families and have never know need. During these yearly mission trips my teens develop a deep love and longing for service. Here they are able to step outside of themselves, and outside of their comfort zones, to do something great for humanity. The overall lesson they gain is joy. I will continue to bring teams of young people down every year because I have seen the changes it has made in their lives.” Kellie Taylor, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish, Phoenix, Arizona

“My week in Agua Prieta is one I will never forget. It has given me a new perspective on what is important in life and has taught me how to love and serve with all my heart.” Michael Finch, Student Volunteer, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, Brotherhood of Hope

“In Mexico I learned that I was more compassionate than I thought. I learned that I was more selfish than I thought. I will look back more often at what I have and think about what these people don’t have. I wish that they could have what I have.” Carney Kermicle, Student Volunteer

“The trip to Agua Prieta allowed me to get away from my own reality and experience someone else’s. In doing this, it gave me the opportunity to see the untapped potential in the residents of a third world country. My own contributions there might have been quite miniscule, but what I saw was not. With a minimum of assistance, the individuals of Agua Prieta are capable of success.  And that’s what I learned.”  Emily Falkner, Student Volunteer, Mt. Carmel Catholic Church Youth Group, Tempe, Arizona

“This trip to Mexico was outstanding. I saw how poor, poor really is. It makes me realize how lucky I am to live in the U.S. and have the things that I do. The residents of Aqua Prieta could make as much in a couple of hours of work in the U.S. as they can in a month where they live. I would really like to go back and give all I have to these poor families. I am so glad to know in 3 days I changed the life of many people. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had and I believe everyone should do it.” Jarred Wafer, Student Volunteer, Bishop’s School, La Jolla, California

“The students and staff who visited in January continue to talk about what an amazing and live-changing experience we all had. It was wonderful to work with you and the staff at Rancho Feliz. We greatly enjoyed the manual labor we did at the barrio house and the chance to visit the orphanage, the school and the factory as well. The soccer games were one of the most memorable parts of the trip, even if we did lose! Again, thank you for the work you do and hopefully we can come back again.” The Staff & Students from the Center of Academic Engagement at the University of South Dakota

“Alejandro, your work and the work of Rancho Feliz are having a deep impact on not only the poor families who receive houses and other aid, but also on the young people who are able to participate in making those dreams a reality. I could recount to you story after story from these young men who came with us. Our eyes have been opened to seeing our neighbors and actively moving to be of service to them.  Spiritual and material poverty surrounds us, not only in Agua Prieta, but in our homes and universities as well.  The seed has been sown and the foundation laid for a life of gratitude and service to fellow man. Personally I want to thank you, Alejandro, for your dedication to this work and your heart for the people of Agua Prieta.” Adam Neri, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Brotherhood of Hope, Boston, Massachusetts

“It’s been 4 years since I’ve been to Agua Prieta and till this day I still refer to that weekend as a life-changing experience. I never thought my two hands could have such an impact on one family, nor did I think they could make such a difference in my life. The building process that began in the morning and was completed just around sunset was truly miraculous. Who would have thought that a handful of 17 year olds could accomplish something like this? On our end it was the best bonding experience one could possibly imagine, but most importantly it was rewarding. This was one of the first times in my life where I felt fulfilled by something non-material. I really appreciated Rancho Feliz and Alejandro empowering us to participate, and I encourage anyone and any group to do so. This experience changed my perspective as well as the way I think. It is part of what convinced me to go into environmental law because I believe I can help the world now.” Leigha Silberman, Student Volunteer, Catalina High School, Tucson, Arizona

“The trip was life-changing. There are so many things you take for granted that so many people in Mexico don’t have. We met people who don’t have families or stable houses or money or food. The trip made me look at my own life differently. You come home and you don’t want to complain about anything because we have it so much better than anyone else.” Kelly Rands, Student Volunteer, The Blessed Nuno Society, Duluth Catholic Diocese, Duluth, Minnesota

“Our youth group from Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pullman, Washington spent time visiting and serving meals at the nursing home. At the orphanage they played with the children, read stories and worked on crafts. They spent two days scraping, washing and painting walls of an elementary school.  For three days, they helped a poor family construct a one-story cement-brick house. The first day, they mixed cement and laid the concrete floor. The second day, they added several layers of bricks. The third day, they put on a tin roof.  Despite difficulties of communicating in different languages, the volunteers and the family formed bonds of playfulness, respect and friendship. On the last day, the group toured a U.S. owned factory that produces microphone and communication parts.  It was clean and well run, like U.S. factory conditions, but the factory workers earn the equivalent of $12 a day. The experience deepened our awareness of the realities poor people throughout the world experience daily. The youth left Agua Prieta strengthened in their commitment to serve people in need and with a new awareness of issues of social justice. In addition, we will remember the God-given bonds of friendship formed with the people of Mexico and with one another.” Mark Baetzhold, Volunteer Chaperone, Sacred Heart Church, Pullman, Washington

“I came into this trip with no expectations. If I did though, they would have been blown away. The service we did under Rancho Feliz was invaluable, the landscapes were breathtaking, and the hospitality was outstanding. I greatly recommend Rancho Feliz to anyone looking to do life changing service.” Ray Morris, Student Volunteer, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Brotherhood of Hope

“The Tesseract School of Paradise Valley brought 29 participants to the Exchange Dormitory for 3 days. This is our 2nd time to Agua Prieta. We came last year and enjoyed it so much that we are back again! In fact, we have another group going in April. For a middle school of 100 students this number of participants is a true testament to the value of your program. I bring 7th & 8th grade students. I reflected with the students and adult chaperones about their experiences. Overwhelmingly, they felt enriched, self-reflective, empowered and motivated to keep working for others. Most special to me is that the felt they had gained as much as they had given if not more. We appreciate Rancho Feliz offering us the opportunity to come to Agua Prieta for these days. The Exchange Dormitory is well maintained, wonderfully laid out and the perfect set up for a group like ours.” Catharine Steffens, Spanish Department Chair, Tesseract School, Paradise Valley, Arizona

I will always be mindful of the need to love all people. I learned in Mexico that I am a compassionate person who suffers, at times, from selfishness — I hope to decrease that.” Brina Swain, Student Volunteer

“My trip to Mexico made me realize how lucky I am to have so many material things and how many things I take for granted. I need to put less stock in material things and never complain about what I don’t have.” Beth Woodard, Student Volunteer

“I am a volunteer with Agua Prieta Family Shelters and we have been enjoying the use of the exchange dorm for 5 years now. The rooms are snug and the showers hot. The facility insures a comfortable respite after a day of working in the local barrios. The kitchen and dining room are the gathering place for hungry workers. Many Americans are intimidated by turmoil in Mexico. Those fears reduce the amount of volunteers. When recruiting new volunteers I can tout the convenience and security of the dorm as a way to ease fears and induce participation. The dorm directly impacts our ability to bring in new volunteers. Rancho Feliz and their exchange dormitory are a huge part of the ongoing volunteer efforts in Agua Prieta, Mexico. The exchange dormitory is the all-important “home base” for those venturing into a foreign country trying to help the less fortunate. I want to thank the contributors to this worthy cause: you help us help others!” Scott Nickum, Volunteer, Agua Prieta Family Shelters, Tucson, Arizona

“Thank you so much for exposing me to the inhumane conditions down in Agua Prieta. For so long I have been so ignorant of the conditions down in Mexico, and I am sad to admit that at one time I too was asking, “Why don’t they just stay in their own country?” Last night in church I found myself thanking God for being so fortunate in my own life. I believe that we so often take for granted the many blessings and amenities that we experience here in the US. I want to praise you for your efforts down in Agua Prieta, and I hope that you know how much you impact and change the lives of those whom you meet. Thank you so much.” Colin Brown, Student Intern Volunteer, DMB, Inc., Scottsdale, Arizona

“The trip to Mexico was an incredibly moving experience. I had never seen or imagined that people could live the way those people do. It brought tears to my eyes to see the malnourished children running around the polluted streets with bare feet and hardly any clothing. It was so rewarding to know that I made a difference in so many people’s lives in just 3 days. But I just wish I could go back and give all those people everything I have.  Though I know the reason we went down there was to help these poor people, at the same time they helped me to open my eyes and really appreciate and realize how lucky I am. It made a truly great impact on my life.” Caitlin Geier, Student Volunteer, Bishop’s School, La Jolla, California

“This visit has showed me the need for service. My heart has been transformed by being able to share with this poor community. The girls at the shelter have helped me understand what it means to love.” Katie Kidd, Student Volunteer

“When we arrived on the first day, we got into groups and began building simple homes, constructed merely of block and concrete. All the while, the majority of us didn’t speak a word of Spanish, however, the looks on the faces of the recipients went beyond the language barrier, it entered one that is universal. The smiles we received and were able to return made all the hard work worth every second, because as a group of young adults, many of whom were still in high school, we were able to understand the meaning of “Paying It Forward”. As a part of that trip of providing aid to the needy, I saw a glimpse of the path to happiness, not just for myself, but for those we helped.” Ryan Lopez, Student Volunteer, Catalina High School, Tucson, Arizona

“My trip to Mexico made me realize that people everywhere, all over the world, are able to get along. Regardless of our material possessions, we all have hearts and we are all friends.” David Pike, Student Volunteer

“I learned that I can really pound a nail!” Zack Rippy, Student Volunteer

“The vision of Rancho Feliz is worth more than a thousand words. My family and I enjoyed the trip and are very impressed with what you are doing to make a difference! There is a special place in heaven for people like you…you’ll get a home theater and all the popcorn you can eat.” Robert Alpert & Family, Volunteer Weekend Attendees

“My March 2010 volunteer experience in Mexico taught me about many of the political aspects of immigration but also introduced me to a more personal and emotional perspective. The experience of sitting and talking with the recently deported men, and seeing the poverty that pushes them toward illegal immigration influenced me in lots of ways. Because of you and your program, I am now an intern at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a policy and advocacy group for immigrant rights, in Washington DC. One of HIAS’s programs is a “young leaders” initiative, in which we try to engage young professionals in the DC area in education and advocacy for immigrants and refugees. I talked to my supervisor about my trip to Agua Prieta and she is interested in possibly coordinating a similar trip for our Young Leaders program.” Talya Erdfarb, Student Volunteer, University of Maryland Hillel, College Park, Maryland

“I just want to say that the experience I had in Agua Prieta is unlike anything I’ve ever known. I saw the poverty that so many people live in and what Rancho Feliz has done is amazing. More people should follow this example and do more to help these people. This was the most life changing experience I’ve ever had. I will definitely be going back to volunteer again.” Spencer Moran, Student Volunteer, Mountain View High School, Mesa, Arizona

“How can I thank you enough for an amazing weekend?  I am at a loss for words…Three days that felt as though it were a life time. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Rancho Feliz is such an inspiration. If we all purposed to do something with our passion as the Rancho Feliz “Guardian Warriors” have done, I have no doubt we certainly could, and would, change the world. I look forward to seeing you again and working with you in days to come.” Linda Pastori, KJZZ/KBAQ, NPR Radio, Phoenix, Arizona>


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