Some schools have a senior trip where students spend time together doing fun activities and creating memories. Cookson Hills adds another component to the Senior Trip experience; service. For decades Cookson Hills seniors have had the opportunity to go on a mission trip over their spring break. This year looked a little different because of travel restrictions. Still, Valarie, Alec, and Eric, along with their sponsors Ron and Donna Riley, stayed at New Life Ranch for the week and each day had activities that allowed them to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Even though these students stayed close to home, they still had life-changing experiences as they served in Northwest Arkansas.
At first, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t know the Riley’s well enough. I didn’t know what food we would eat, and I am picky about my food. Staying at a ranch didn’t sound interesting either. Plus, I had to work for free?! Not get paid?! I mean, who does that? That was going to be new for me. I would miss out not only on my one-week holiday and the sleep that came with it, but I was also going to miss out on the paycheck I would have earned that week. So I wouldn’t even be doing work for free. It would cost me money, sleep, and my holiday time all to serve people I didn’t know or even care about. So yeah, I was not excited about the whole Senior Trip thing.
Once we were on the trip, I actually enjoyed myself. We ate out every meal. During our free time, I was able to do things I liked: skating, playing basketball and volleyball, and watching movies. We even went bowling. Every night we had a campfire, and one of us would lead a devotion from the book of Jame and share our favorite part of the day.
The first place we served was Saving Grace in Northwest Arkansas. We washed their cars inside and out, raked leaves, weeded, and planted flower gardens. We were able to meet the director of Saving Grace. She is an amazing lady, strong and independent, and intimidating. Then we served at Mrs. Verla’s place. She is an elderly lady who lives with her amazing dog, “the Duchess.” We weeded the garden and sanded and painted her front and back porch.
I enjoyed everything about the trip: getting to know the Rileys, spending the time with my classmates, even showering in a tiny coffin-sized shower. In the end, I was glad to miss my paycheck to go on this trip. It was worth every penny.
The senior trip was a time to bond with my classmates as well as serve others. On the trip, I learned new things about my classmates but, more importantly, strengthened my servant heart for others. During the senior trip, I met a woman who used to be a student and employee at Cookson Hills named Becky Shaffer. I saw how she accepted the love that was given to her at Cookson Hills and then took it into the world to lavish it on others. I think that it is so important that we don’t just take in love and care and keep it to ourselves, but instead give it to others. So many kids at Cookson Hills feel they have no hope because they will be here for years; Becky is a perfect example that everything will work out.
Ron and Donna Riley were the senior sponsors. Ron said, “Part of our role is to give our seniors the opportunity to serve others during a week-long mission trip. Learning how to serve God and give generously is an essential lesson for every child.
On our second day of work, the students were able to meet a Cookson Hills graduate, named Becky. Becky leads Saving Grace, a ministry she started to help young women who have aged out of foster care, yet still need a place to live, support in completing their education, and finding employment. Our students spent about 2 hours in conversation with Becky. The time flew by as the kids listened and shared their own stories and thoughts about what Becky was doing.
Later that day the students shared their thoughts about the experience at Saving Grace. I was excited to hear the students open up and share how God was moving in their hearts. They were impressed with Becky’s fire and passion. Each student could see themselves in one way or another in Becky. Becky had been through a lot of trauma in her life, and yet she was making the lives of others better. Her story was a look forward for each of them to a place where their stories could be one day.
Another one of our service projects was for our seniors to help a senior. We partnered with a local non-profit, Kind At Heart Ministries, who paired us with Ms. Verla and her dog, the Duchess. Our assignment was to provide some minor home repair and yard work, but our kids didn’t expect the relationship that came through their service. The kids worked hard, listened well, and most of all loved Ms. Verla. After two days, they may as well have been her grandchildren.
We are all so thankful for this local mission trip. It was heartwarming to see our kids grow from those in need to help others in need. There is nothing more significant than training up our children in the ways of Kingdom living!”