Kendra Selzer (right) served as a teacher's aide to Mariela Ortiz (left) and her kindergarten class at Academia Menonita Betania in Aibonito, Puerto Rico.

By Travis Duerksen
Thursday, August 2, 2018

NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – It was early September 2017, and Kendra Selzer was bound for Puerto Rico for a year with Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS). Then Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall.

Selzer had planned to live and work as a teacher's aide on the campus of Academia Menonita Betania, a school that serves children from pre-kindergarten through 10th grade and is a member of Mennonite Education Agency. Hurricane Irma had little effect on the school and the surrounding city of Aibonito when it skirted Puerto Rico on Sept. 6. But two weeks later, Hurricane Maria caused serious damage to the school.

High winds tore the aluminum roofs off multiple buildings on campus, including the volunteer house where Selzer was set to stay during her MVS term. While the school reopened to students on Oct. 23, Selzer would need to wait until repairs to the volunteer house were completed in January before she could arrive in Puerto Rico and begin her term. 

"It was pretty uncertain," said Selzer. "I knew the island was hit pretty hard."

While most MVS units have at least three participants who share a living space together, Selzer was the only MVS worker in the three-bedroom volunteer house on Academia Menonita Betania's campus. Yet, she wasn't alone. Throughout Selzer's service term, she shared the house with SOOP (Service Opportunities with Our Partners) volunteers. They came to Academia Menonita Betania to paint, help with hurricane clean-up, and work in the campus library for service terms ranging from two weeks to a few months.

Though the age range for the SOOP volunteers skewed toward older adults and retirees, Selzer said she and her housemates grew close through shared activities, including grocery shopping, venturing out on the island, and baking apple pies together.

"You do different things when you're with a different age group," said Selzer. "We had a lot of fun together … it was hard to say goodbye to everyone."

When Selzer returned home to central Kansas at the end of May, two of the SOOP couples she had lived with in Puerto Rico surprised her by attending her home church of Spring Valley Mennonite on the day that Selzer presented a program centered on her service term with MVS.

Though Selzer now works full-time on her family's farm, she isn't finished with service. In fact, she plans to go back to Puerto Rico in the coming months—with SOOP.

Selzer wants to reconnect with Academia Menonita Betania and help once again as a teacher's aide, as well as visit friends in the community and connect with other SOOPers at the guest house. "As far as I know, that's the best way to go back," she said. "I'm the type of personality that gets along with any age group."  

MVS and SOOP are two of the many programs available through Mennonite Mission Network. Information on hundreds of service opportunities in Puerto Rico, the U.S. mainland, and beyond can be found at MennoniteMission.net/Serve.   

 

 

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