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Costa Rica Volunteers Return to West Tennessee

Hollow Rock-Bruceton, Huntingdon, Camden Students Participated


COSTA RICA — Students from Bruceton, Huntingdon, Camden and Memphis discovered that summer means rainy season in steamy tropical Costa Rica. But armed with serving hearts and good senses of humor, participants in the latest Global Citizen Adventure Corps program overcame the weather, interacted with children who needed their attention, erected fencing and secured habitats for animals needing protection, and even squeezed in a lesson in softball.

The action-packed days also included beach time, boat rides, night kayaking to bioluminescent waters, ziplining, and much laughter and friendship building, said Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central High School’s Spanish teacher Jenna Patton who served as the Co-Leader of the program alongside GCAC CEO Julie Hill.

Patton said in the short time span, she witnessed transformation.

“The students matured so much from the beginning of the trip to the end. They came together, putting aside any differences and reliance on the comforts of home,” she noted, “They didn’t even mention television. They were so immersed in the beauty around them. They forged relationships with people in a new culture, making for a very tearful goodbye. In one week’s time they all grew up.”

Most of the group were recruited by Patton. Two 2024 graduates say that the experience of crossing cultures and exploring life outside of their hometowns made a definite impact.

Drake Northup, an 18-year-old heading to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with the intent of studying biomedical or robotics engineering, saw the construction projects at the Wild Sun Rescue Center as a means of confirming his desire to use engineering to help out other communities and explore new places.

 As the only male in the group from Tennessee, he spent additional time with the two men accompanying the travelers - the bus driver and tour guide -- who helped him improve upon his two years of Spanish study – the last with Patton.

 “We talked about the news in Costa Rica, the culture and they taught me how to properly say certain words,” the Bruceton native noted. “For instance, the Costa Rican slang term Pura Vida can be used as how are you doing, thank you your welcome, goodbye and hello.”

The Pura Vida vibe went both ways as Kaidyn Williams became guide and coach, using the end of the day to do some instructing of her own.

The 18-year-old Huntingdon resident wore her t-shirt touting Hollow Rock-Bruceton as softball state champions. When the tour guide pointed it out, a Wild Sun staff member asked what softball was.

 She then found a makeshift bat in a nearby stick, designated some bases and along with her peers cheered him on to his first grand slam.

 When she entered Coast Guard boot camp in July, Williams was already committed to saving lives. After her Costa Rica week on the Nicoya Peninsula, which included fun in the sun, she says she is ready to continue pursuing her love of the water and to make a difference there.

 “I spoke with Pablo, our tour guide, and he told me about how the Costa Rican Coast Guard helps stop smuggling,” she said. Conversations such as this one and the service-focused nature of the entire program “definitely had a positive impact” on confirming her career choice.

 As for the tropical storms, both agreed that the rain enhanced their experience.

 “The rain felt good. It was hot!” Williams said of the tropical heat. “It also helped make the digging easier.”

“And it washed us off,” Northup added.

Hill, who organized the GCAC program, working with in-country partners to achieve the West Tennessee-based nonprofit’s goals of supporting sustainability and making a positive impact on the lives of both the people of Costa Rica and students from primarily rural and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, said the week reinforced her commitment to leading the nonprofit.

“I was inspired to see the students working so hard in some pretty tough conditions. Yet they kept at it with smiles on their faces. Then later to see them chatting in Spanish in the group chat - outside the classroom, not for a grade but for the fun of it - that’s what education is – transformative,” she said.

Northup and Williams say they are walking away equally inspired.

“It was very eye-opening to understand how others live, and it’s a way that I’d like to live,” Northup acknowledged. “The fresh food, the kindness of everyone, the way they are welcoming and protecting nature – it’s inspiring.”

“In a word, it’s a moving experience,” Williams contributed. “You really get to experience how big the world is.”

The two service projects were outcomes of collaboration with in-country guides. Wild Sun Rescue Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of local wildlife. The GCAC volunteers spent three days helping secure safe habitats for the sick, injured and orphaned animals there. They also installed stepping stones to help future volunteers get around safely.

The day the group landed in the capitol city, they traveled to Hogar Sol Association to engage with and deliver items collected for the vulnerable children there.

Participants in the program alongside Northup and Williams were Abby Quinn of Bruceton, Ady Olds of Bruceton, Amaya Caery of Memphis, Carlee Hicks of Bruceton, Kennedy Patton of Camden, Mckenzie Baylor of Bruceton, Mykenzie Burton of Camden, and Paige Woolf of Bruceton.

Plans are underway for a 2025 program in Costa Rica led by Patton. To be notified when registration begins, visit the GCAC website and complete the notification popup form.

Global Citizen Adventure Corps is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to cultivating global citizens through education, service, and travel. By offering transferable college credit and donor-funded scholarships, GCAC actively builds pathways between rural high schools, universities, and a robust network of global nonprofit partners to provide travel program opportunities to underserved students. For more information visit www.globalcitizenadventurecorps.org.