Amy Walther recently learned that to communicate and demonstrate love, talking is not an essential component.

“All it takes is an open mind and heart to be able to connect with those around the world,” she said. “We were able to come together with the children we were with so easily through our actions and simply showing that we cared for them and wanted to spend time with them. We each did this in our own way: through dancing, playing sports, or even just coloring and playing with chalk.”

Walther was one of 33 Kenosha St. Joseph Catholic Academy seniors and 10 chaperones, as well as theology teacher Fr. Todd Belardi, who traveled to the Dominican Republic Jan. 5-11. The young missionary group traveled through Catholic Mission Trips (CMT) and stayed at an orphanage called Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH), Spanish for our Little Brothers and Sisters. This was the school’s second trip to the Dominican Republic. Previous missions took place in Nicaragua but due to civil unrest, trips there are on hold.

According to Michelle Anderson, campus ministry coordinator, the Catholic orphanage was started in 1954 in Mexico when a young boy stole from the poor box at a church and rather than press charges, the priest asked for custody of the boy.

“NPH now has orphanages in nine Latin American countries,” she said. “We stayed in the visitor housing at NPH. On past mission trips, we normally work Monday through Thursday and have Fridays free. But this year, Monday fell on Epiphany, which is a national holiday in the Dominican Republic, so we were not able to work at all.”

It felt strange for the team to not have a job to do since Americans are geared to work despite national holidays.

“God works all things for our good and it ended up being one of the best things for our trip,” Anderson said. “We were able to celebrate the Epiphany Mass with all at NPH. In addition, NPH in the Dominican Republic was celebrating their 17th birthday; we were able to be part of that. Our kids spent the rest of the day with their kids playing games and bonding.”

Students began each day with 7 a.m. Mass, followed by breakfast. The first couple of days they worked in two groups at NPH.

“One group dug a trench for a wall that would be built on newly donated land, one group in the kitchen prepared food for us all to eat, and another group worked with the special needs kids at NPH,” said Anderson. “We took lunch breaks and went back to work. In the late afternoon, our kids were able to bond and play games with the NPH kids. After dinner, we met on the rooftop of our housing where CMT led us through our night program. We sang praise and worship songs and broke up into small groups to reflect on the day and how we saw God in that day.”

Walther worked with a special needs group, served in the kitchen, chipped rock and helped dig a trench for a wall to be built.

“For two days, we left the orphanage grounds to go to an area called ‘Kiki’s Place,’ where we knocked down a wall, built half a basketball court, put in a concrete floor for a man who was living with a dirt floor that would turn to mud with the rain, as well as sort and distribute clothing items for members of the community,” she said. “Although we were able to accomplish a lot during our time in the DR, there was still a lot more that we wished we were able to help with.”

Other projects that took place during the mission trip was clearing a field for a garden, picking up trash and mixing cement for a basketball court. The group also visited a family where a 13-year-old girl had just given birth.

“Her baby girl, Estella, was a month old and they were concerned about her because she was so lethargic and her lips were slightly blue,” said Anderson. “One of our chaperones, Dino Bosco, is a chiropractor, and he massaged and worked on her muscles. We also helped the mom with nursing her baby. But the best thing was that Fr. Todd baptized Estella. The next day, she really seemed like a different baby. She was awake and very alert, and even her muscle tone seemed improved.”

For Braedon Peterson, meeting the kids at the orphanage and building relationships were the highlight of his trip, especially working with the special needs children.

“It really fulfilled me in a way I have never felt before,” he said. “The trip made me grateful for the roof over my head, and the three square meals a day that we’re all used to. Never will I ever take those things for granted again. I learned to truly appreciate everything I have been blessed with throughout my entire life.”

Katherine (Katie) Kormylo agreed, adding that she will no longer take her friendships for granted.

“The kids in the DR shared that without the love and support of their friends, they wouldn’t be as happy, or as selfless as they are now. The bond that two people can share creates strength that can get you past mountains, and we really saw that being shown there.”

On their two half days off, the group visited the beach and went to San Pedro to sightsee and buy souvenirs. On the final night of the trip, they had dinner on the beach.

At the end of the trip, Kormylo was in tears as she knew they were leaving the next day; a young companion reached out and touched her heart.

“This little boy was walking with me and saw me crying. He decided to take his cross necklace off and give it to me. I didn’t deserve it, but he insisted I keep it,” she said. “In the name of Jesus, we were all brought together; me and 32 of my best friends, to serve others who deserved much more than they’re given. It was humbling and incredible, and it’s all thanks to God.”