Clearfield High senior Aimee Matheson embarked on her fifth trip to Guatemala on Monday . But this time, it's going to be different.
She's bringing 43 of her classmates with her.
Clearfield students are set to spend two weeks helping build a day care center in a rural area of Quetzaltenango, the second-most populous city in Guatemala. The students brought food, clothes, learning materials and other items to give to people, who Matheson says live a shockingly humble life with cardboard walls, limited education and poor nutrition.
The project was Matheson's idea. She's Clearfield High's student body officer in charge of service, and she wanted to go big for her school's 50th anniversary. Each year, Clearfield raises money in its "Falcons are Fabulous" charity drive. Matheson wanted to make this year's fundraiser the most far-reaching yet, to celebrate the school's birthday.
Matheson has spent much of her life traveling with her family through Central and South America. At first, the Mathesons simply wanted to visit places like Machu Picchu, but they soon noticed the poor living conditions and wanted to help.
Matheson has traveled to about 30 countries to do service. Her father, Dwayne, is a construction worker and uses his expertise to build structures such as day care centers.
When she first pitched her idea for Project Guatemala to classmates, it was met with skepticism.
"Everyone thought it was unrealistic at the beginning," Matheson said. "We've never seen anything this big."
But soon, Clearfield students jumped on board, and Project Guatemala began to seem possible.
"We've had a ton of support," Matheson said. "We kind of pulled in all the different groups from Clearfield High." The National Honor Society provided school kits, and the wood-shop kids made toy blocks. Students raised nearly $14,000 with help from several local businesses, and collected quilts, toys and other items at a drive on Dec. 4. They plan to hand deliver the items to needy Guatemalans.
Matheson took a three-week trip alone to Guatemala during spring break to research what people needed and what could be done. Her parents weren't worried because the family has built friendships there.
Matheson, her classmates, and 14 other parents and friends, are set to spend 14 days in the central American country, through Jan. 9, 2011. Her father, who negotiated with the city of Quetzaltenango for free land for the day care center, will spend several more weeks there completing construction, along with the co-manager of the project, Kendall Presnell, the uncle of another Clearfield High student.
Presnell said the center will be at least 20 feet by 15 feet in size, and will serve about 30 children each day.
"By Guatemalan standards, that's a palace," Presnell said.
Money raised by Clearfield students also will provide salaries for three day care staffers and daily meals for children. More fundraising will be necessary to keep the center going, but Presnell and the Mathesons are in it for the long haul.
Aimee Matheson said she is stoked to help Guatemalan families, but there is something else she can't wait for.
"I'm honestly really excited for these high school kids to see what I've seen my whole life," she said. "I think they're going to realize how lucky we are as Americans, and how much we take for granted."
Senior Kimball Gardner knows he's going to be leaving his comfort zone.
"I don't know if I've ever seen anything like this before," he said, "I'm excited to hand out all the [toys, clothes and other items], and see everyone's reactions."
Junior Jenna Hunsaker is impressed that a classmate conceptualized the project.
"Aimee is our leader," she said. "She tells us what to do, and we just basically follow. She's very organized. She's been there many times. She tells us what to expect. She's made this project possible."
The trip will mark the first time Hunsaker has left the United States.
"Christmas isn't even in my perspective," she said a few days before the holiday. "Usually, kids count down the days to Christmas. I'm counting down the days to Guatemala."