Interview with Will Holmes
Director of Public Service, Cate School Carpinteria California

How long have you been working with Via International and Los Niños de Baja?

For the past 11 years, I have been bringing groups of students to serve alongside communities in Mexicali, Mexico with Los Niños de Baja. The service learning trip in Mexicali is a program developed in partnership with Via International that gives students the opportunity to work on school improvement projects including concrete and painting. Each trip is designed around cultural exchange that creates direct impact from infrastructure and revitalization improvements. The real gift, on both sides, is the dialogue between students and community members.

What is one special project or moment that stands out during your past decade of service?

One of the most touching experiences I ever had was when we visited a school that did not have wheelchair accessible ramps. There was a young girl who was there who could not access the buildings she needed to for her education. In one day, we helped build ramps creating access so could freely attend classes.

Why is Mexicali such a special community to bring students for service?

We are so welcomed into the community that we are not simply guests from another country, but a family, sharing in the success and challenges that we face together. We feel very much embraced by the people in Mexicali. One of the things that makes this program special is that the communities we serve are responsible for providing some of the necessary funds and resources for these projects. This creates a true partnership and its seems like much of the community comes out to participate. It is fun to work hard together for a common goal.

What specifically do students learn?

All of it is learning, for sure. Folks in the community teach students many things, chief among them; how economic reality works in different directions  and that nutrition, ecology, and finance go hand in hand. For example, the traditional tile business in Los Algodones is in decline while the bee micro enterprise is getting stronger. Part of that success is certainly from Cate School since we are one of the primary long-term supporters of the project. Learning that buying honey directly from its producers can change the lives of families in Mexicali helps students appreciate the differences between minimum wage earners in Mexico and the United States.

What is one practice that we can all do to increase awareness of poverty?

It is a good question and a challenge. I have a lot of thoughts about it. Let me say it this way, we must all make sure while riding the bus (in whatever community you live), that we look out the window, because what we are driving by is really incredible.The hardships facing our communities are real and we are called to ‘see’ it and respond. The power and impact of that awareness is really moving. As an educator, I can only hope that increased awareness will stay with these students forever.

Looking ahead, what do you hope to achieve through this program over the next 5 years?

What’s possible for the future? What I know is that poverty affects us all. As far as directing public service is concerned, the level of interest at Cate School is so high that this year we had over 80 students express interest in the 42 student spots on Los Ninos trips. In recent years we have had to do a lottery to select the students. There is a real demand at Cate for the service learning trips in Mexico. To really increase our impact in the region, we need more support and help to grow the program. It would be awesome if we could help get 10 new schools to travel to Mexicali each year. My hope is that this service learning program continues to affect positive change for young adults and that we have given them a way to reimagine and respond to the challenge of poverty.

If your high school, college, university, church, or community organization would like to join a volunteer travel program

please sign up today!