By LAUREN MYLO
Hour Staff Writer
The most poignant memory Norwalk resident Marco Garcia has from his service trip to the Dominican Republic this year is the look on the villagers' faces when running water began to flow in their town for the first time.
That moment is captured on film, and thanks to a Wilton real estate company, available for all to see.
Marco, 15, traveled to Central America through Norwalk-based Builders Beyond Borders (B3) early in 2009 with 340 other students to build homes, construct aqueducts and install solar panels. Student and adult advisers' photographs from all aspects of the trip are currently being displayed in a special exhibit at Wilton's Halstead Property Country Living.
Various B3 trips take place from February to April to a different country every year, and students usually travel during their school breaks.
"They give up their school breaks to help other people," said Ellen Garcia, Marco's mother and an agent at Halstead. Garcia will be an adviser on next year's trip to Peru and is a board member of B3.
"They have to earn all of the money, get sponsors, raise $2,500, and do community service before they go," she continued. "It's not just global community service, it's local as well."
This was one of the goals of Craig Skinner, B3's managing director, who said the entire process is an opportunity for students to realize they can help within borders, too.
"It was really good as adults to see our young adults volunteer to help others who are in need both locally and globally," said Skinner, who has gone to every country with a group since 1994.
"We hope to plant that seed of volunteerism and doing unto others, and with every student I've been in contact with, that works," he added. "They volunteer into college, we've had kids enter the Peace Corps ... We're really striving to give these students a more well-rounded outlook of the world and the people around them."
Skinner noted B3 has always done a photo exhibit after the trips, but this year Garcia suggested they hold it at Halstead, which has a rotating art gallery. Another perk of this option was drawing more Wilton students into the program, which has been difficult in the past because Wilton High School had different spring break times than other schools.
"We had our first Wilton student last year ... and she was over the moon," said Skinner.
The students, who come from as near as Weston and Westport and as far as Poland -- as is the case of one local student whose family moved away -- said they couldn't imagine a better way to spend their breaks.
Mikey Hintsa, who will be going on his third B3 trip next year, said his group's project was constructing a community center.
"When we first saw our work site, the inside was only rocks and dirt and wooden supports, but by the end it had walls and floors and a ceiling," the 16-year-old Westport resident said. "The last day we had a farewell ceremony, and we were able to look back on all the work we did at our site."
Mikey said realizing how much could be accomplished in a little more than week was his favorite part, and Norwalk resident Zach Straight, a junior at Greens Farms Academy, said his favorite part was working alongside the locals. He said everyone from the eldest in the village to the toddlers would help.
Marco said that part of the experience met a lot to him as well, and he noted the villagers were impressed with how much was accomplished.
"The people we worked with were very accepting and excited we were there to help them out, and they seemed very eager for us to help them," he said. "(After turning on the water for the first time), they were ecstatic. They were amazed something like that would happen to them."
Builders Beyond Borders, a nonprofit which began in Westport in 1993, has grown from 20 high school students per year to more than 300. Students have traveled to approximately 10 countries since the program's inception.
Visit B3's Web site, www.buildersbeyondborders.org, for information about past trips or to obtain an application for next year's trip to Peru. Scholarships are available, and there are spaces left for the March and April trips. There is a waiting list for the February trips.
The exhibit at Halstead Property Country Living at 21 River Road in Wilton will run through the winter, past the original Dec. 31 end date. Prints from the photographs are available for $100 and proceeds will benefit the nine 2010 trips to Peru.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009