This Spring Break, a group of 11 Oak Knoll students and two faculty chaperones have traveled to the Dominican Republic to assist with the Mustard Seed Communities organization, which serves children and young adults aged 6-23 who live with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.
Joining Stacy Nolan, Oak Knoll’s Upper School theology teacher and Campus Ministry team member, and Jessica Levee, Upper School foreign language teacher, are Kathryn Flanagan ’17, Valerie Nieves ’18, Bridget Niebanck ’17, NikkiAnn Grogan ’18, Yahaira Torres ’18, Isabel Sangimino ’18, Emma Saheed ’18, Madison Dyer ’18, Emma McGee ’18, Isabelle Clark ’17 and Christina Nguyen ’18.
Follow along as we relay our students’ daily activities to support the continued construction and development of the Mustard Seed facility in the Dominican Republic, as well as some of the opportunities for students to enjoy the country’s natural and cultural beauty!
Days 7 and 8
The students’ final day in the Dominican Republic was highlighted by finishing their mural and spending some time with the children.
As the sun set, students visited into town enjoying a scrumptious meal and a twilight walk along the beach.
The following morning began with the first tearful goodbyes between students and the staff and children of the Mustard Seed Communities.
As students wrote their last reflection at a height of 35,000 feet en route to the United States, they thought back about the ups and downs of their time in the Dominican Republic and how much they learned about service and themselves.
While the students’ sixth day began with sunny skies, stormy weather returned.
Students continued their service despite the rain, continuing working with the students and facility upkeep, adding their personal flair in painting an aquatically-themed mural in the Mission House.
Later, students took in a Mass at a nearby community parish followed by a stroll through a local village. Both at Mass and in the village, students were warmly welcomed and enjoyed pleasant exchanges with the local community.
After starting off the morning right with a prayer circle with the children, students continued assisting the nurses with physical therapy. In addition, students painted the boys' nursery, helped with laundry and filled holes in the dirt driveway outside the mission house.
Mother Nature provided an unexpected respite, with a rainstorm allowing students to enjoy a little bit of downtime with each other as well as crafting foam photo frames for the children.
Students enjoyed the rest of their fifth day, including a delicious dinner despite the weather causing a brief power outage.
Here’s hoping Day 6 will mark the return of clear skies for our students!
Students learned the day, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, and commemorated the occasion by celebrating with a young boy at Mustard Seed named Brailin who has Down syndrome.
To further recognize the day’s significance, students wore crazy socks in solidary with a New Jersey-based organization called Rock Your Socks.
Once again, students were split into groups with some further assisting with physical and occupational therapy, while others assisted in painting the facilities.
After lunch, students were surprised with a scenic cable car ride that leads to a park in the mountains. Upon arriving at the top of the mountain, students observed a replica of the statue of Christ the Redeemer that has been made famous in Cochabamba, Bolivia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
On their way back to Mustard Seeds, students enjoyed some time shopping for local treats and souvenirs at a local market called “La Sirena.”
After a delicious breakfast and sharing music with the children, students broke off into groups for the day. Some students assisted the staff with physical and occupational therapies for the children, with other students cleaning and weeding the gardens. Yet a third group of students helped nurses with laundry.
The afternoon included additional landscape work as well as more playtime with the children, before students were allowed to reflect on their third day in Dominican Republic.
Students began their first full day in the Dominican Republic with a Mass followed by a leisurely visit to the coast.
However, after the morning’s R & R, students got down to business, removing rocks at the facility’s grounds and replacing them with sod to allow grass to grow. Students also got to enjoy some time playing with the children served by Mustard Seed.
After departing from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Oak Knoll travelers enjoyed a four-hour flight before being welcomed by 80-degree weather and clear, sunny skies.
Students then made a decidedly shorter trip - a 10 minute drive - from the airport to Mustard Seed Communities, where they enjoyed a bountiful meal.
Much of the remainder of the day was introductory, with student volunteers meeting with organization staff and taking a tour of the facilities.