On a mission to aid disadvantaged

Abbey Stirgwolt

Kent State students learn importance of helping those in need

Dan Tortorice, freshman exploratory major, traveled to Bogota, Colombia with his youth group this past summer to work with local orphanages, perform physical labor and play his guitar with locals during church services.

Credit: Jason Hall

In the relentlessly hot and dry Ohio summer while Dan Tortorice’s friends were taking vacations, playing video games in the comfort of their air-conditioned homes or perhaps earning money at their summer jobs, Dan was setting up scaffolding under the searing Colombian sun – for free.

A few countries away, Bill Adams was spending time with a Puerto Rican family he’d never met, helping with manual labor during the day and sleeping on the floor of an old school building in the evenings.

Hurricane Katrina has stirred millions across the nation to aid those who have lost possessions and loved ones. But before Katrina was a blip on the radar screen, people like Adams and Tortorice recognized the importance of helping others.

“It was really awesome,” said Tortorice, a freshman exploratory major. “I’d never been outside the United States before, but it was a great experience.”

Tortorice traveled this summer with 35 other members of his youth group to Bogota, Colombia, for more than a week of physical labor, emotional bonding and spiritual growth as he had never known it.

His group spent a lot of time working with kids at orphanages in the city, where many parents send their kids to be fed.

“Kids in Colombia can only go to the orphanages during the day,” he said. “They have to go back to their houses at night – but the orphanages can only accept one kid from each family. So basically, if parents have, you know, eight kids in their families, they have to choose which of their kids will eat each day. Some families go a couple days without eating.”

Even without basic necessities, the people he worked with in Colombia taught Tortorice the importance of giving.

“People down there have nothing, but they’re so happy,” Tortorice said. “And still they just want to give you something. They give no matter what.”

Adams, a junior justice studies major, found similar conditions in Caguas, Puerto Rico.

“The houses looked nasty on the outsides – like bungalows and shacks,” he said. But most of the houses had clean walls and floors inside.

Adams and 475 other members of various interdenominational churches nationwide divided into small groups and lived with host families for the eight days of their trip. Each day the host families and their guests shared devotional time and prayer.

Tortorice also enjoyed spending time with the locals. His youth group’s worship band combined with the Colombian band one evening for a service he will never forget.

“The church they had was really small, and they had four services to accommodate for the 600 people who attended,” he said. “One Sunday we did the church worship service, our worship team mixed with theirs. We meshed really well – it sounded awesome. I think they were better than we were.”

Both Adams and Tortorice plan to take future trips. Adams is already in the process of planning his next trip to “somewhere in the western United States;” Tortorice would like to go to New Orleans but hesitates to take time off school.

Upon returning to the United States, both began school with a slightly new outlook on life and the condition of the human race.

“I learned that we’re all part of a global community,” Adams said. “Even with the language barrier, there are so many similarities between human beings.”

Contact religion reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].