NSHS seniors get ready to embark on Guatemala service trip for senior project

NSHS seniors get ready to embark on Guatemala service trip for senior project

William Reyes, Emma Grant and Kyle Karspeck are completing senior projects to support the communities around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. The three seniors, along with classmates, will participate in a service trip to the area in April. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Three students at North Smithfield High School are embarking on a senior project that will take them thousands of miles from home and introduce their classmates to another way of life.

William Reyes, a senior, will lead a group of students to Panajachel, Guatemala, to perform service work during April vacation, volunteering with local organizations on the shores of Lake Atitlán. According to students, it’s the first time in recent memory the school has offered a trip focused purely on community service, and about half a dozen students are expected to attend. The trip is part of Reyes’s senior project, a graduation requirement that encourages students to pursue a topic or passion beyond what they’ve accomplished before.

It’s not the first time Reyes has traveled to the area. His father, also named William, grew up in Guatemala, and his family has been visiting the country to see relatives and perform charity work for years. His mother, Catherine, is the founder of Artisan Bridge, a local nonprofit that works with Guatemala-based organization Mayan Families to connect artisan women with a larger market for their products in the United States.

Still, it will be the first time he leads his own service trip down to the region, introducing his classmates to the wonders of an area he has come to love. Reyes said he hopes to expand his classmates’ views on the world and show them how much beauty there is in Guatemala.

“I’ve learned a lot from my mom and other leaders throughout my life. They’ve sort of given up this mantle of running this trip,” he explained.

As he began planning, Reyes reached out to friends to gauge the interest among his classmates. Several responded, and two, Emma Grant and Kyle Karspeck, were inspired to plan their own senior projects around the communities of Lake Atitlán. For her project, Grant is working with Reyes’s mother to expand the customer base for Artisan Bridge. She recently helped secure the American Cancer Society as a customer during their online holiday fundraiser, which will feature beaded ornaments, lanyards and wristlets handmade by the women of Artisan Bridge and sold throughout the month of December. Twenty percent of the proceeds will support the American Cancer Society, while the remaining 80 percent will return to the village, where the women use the profits to support their families and homes.

Karspeck, meanwhile, is working with Reyes’s father to plan and lead a construction project during the April trip. About half of the group will work with Karspeck on a local home, while the other half will volunteer with children and perform tasks for a local organization. Karspeck, who has never been out of the country before, said his project also includes fundraising toward the cost of materials.

“We’re going to just make sure they have a comfortable living setting and a roof to live under,” he said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 6:30 p.m., the students will host a fundraiser at the high school auditorium to support travel and material expenses. The event will serve as the premiere for “Living on Giving,” a documentary created by local photographer Pamela Bhatia during a trip to Panajachel earlier this year. Reyes, Grant and Karspeck will also be on hand to discuss their projects, and attendees can purchase handmade products from Artisan Bridge.

While the project has involved nearly a year of planning, the students say the work will be worth the result as their classmates have the opportunity to join them in an effort normally led by others.

“I feel like we’re a very giving community, and this is an opportunity for the youth of the community to lead the way on this one,” said Reyes.