Ask Jovonta Pimpleton how he feels about going to the Dominican Republic, and he’ll be straight with you: “I’m nervous.”
He’s never been out of the country and this will be only his second time on a plane. Then there’s the heat.
So why is the Kenowa Hills High School student going to the Caribbean nation to help install water filters?
“It’s a good opportunity (to) meet people, and learn how other countries struggle,” says the soft-spoken senior. “Sometimes I get emotional about people and their situations.”
That concern for others pretty much sums up why Jovonta will board a southbound plane June 15 with other area high schoolers. He’s joining students from Rockford and Saugatuck as part of a Rotary International initiative called Thirsting to Serve.
The thirst to serve also explains why Jovonta is a member of The Opportunity Group, a Kenowa High student club. They joined with the Comstock Park Rotary to help out with the nonprofit clean-water venture of the Midwest regional Rotary district.
Since its formation four years ago as a group of mostly Latino students, there are now about 25 active members of many ethnicities. They meet weekly, plan service projects and fun outings. This year’s theme was leadership. Students met with Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell and other government leaders.
The Opportunity Group has tutored pupils at Alpine Elementary, visited seniors at Christian Rest Home, donated holiday items to needy families and baby bottles to homeless mothers.
“These kids have many financial struggles of their own,” says club adviser Laura Fair. “But they’ve made a conscious choice to grow as a person through donation.”
Learning leadership, forming friendships
The Dominican Republic trip is their first international service project. Club members raised more than $2,000 to pay for water filters produced by Cascade Engineering. They will install some filters in Haitian migrant worker camps and visit a girls’ orphanage.
Rotary is helping to cover the travel costs of Jovonta and of Nemesis Figerio, a Kenowa graduate and club member who is going with him.
For Jovonta, it’s another part of The Opportunity Group experience, along with outings to football games and the Sky Zone trampoline park.
“I just wanted to help out,” he says. “It looked like fun, too. I met more people, and I learned some leadership skills.”
Learn more about Rotary’s Thirsting to Serve project here