Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Embracing a Vacation for Good; Florissant Family Plans Volunteer Service Projects While on the Road

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Embracing a Vacation for Good; Florissant Family Plans Volunteer Service Projects While on the Road

Article excerpt

The Martinez family sat outside on picnic tables in the Texas heat, temperatures rising above 100 degrees, and listened to the story of how some of the refugees made it to this country.

Megan Martinez, 33, studied the portraits painted on the fence next to them. They depicted people who had traveled by packed trains through South America. At various points, people would throw food on the train so the passengers could survive until the next stop.

Her 17-year-old stepson, Holden, was absorbed in the story told by the director of Casa Marianella in Austin. Later that evening, Holden would be cooking dinner for the families staying at the shelter. He would take special care to make the spaghetti sauce from scratch for them.

His mother describes this moment of their family vacation as life- changing.

"Seeing my kids understand the system, learning about how people come to live here because it's not safe to live in their own country, seeing the wheels in their heads turning ... as a parent, that was huge."

This was the second summer the Martinezes, who live in Florissant, embraced the idea of vacationing for good with their three children, ages 17, 9 and 8. As part of their 10-day summer vacation, each family member took a role in planning a different volunteer project. They drove from St. Louis to Texas and worked on six service projects during the trip. They helped sort donations at a distribution center for the Joplin School District in Missouri. In Dallas, they took down a sunflower garden at Peace Community Gardens, which was moving to a new location. In San Antonio, they worked a Family Fun Night at the San Antonio Museum of Art. They cooked and served dinner at the refugee shelter in Austin. And they painted and assembled temporary huts for people still living in tents from the tornadoes in Oklahoma City.

Holden said he got to practice his Spanish while talking to residents at Casa Marianella, and it changed his perspective on the sorts of problems that come up in a typical, middle-class American high school.

"It was kind of cool how they could be so positive and so happy despite all they had been through," he said.

Mike Martinez, 41, who works as the chief development officer for Catholic Charities, and his wife, Megan, who works as the recreation director for Missouri Veterans Home, are naturally service-oriented people. …

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