On the Importance of Community Service

By Hannah Gensheimer

Apogee loves community service! Every summer, Apogee runs amazing trips all over the country and beyond.  However, it is not just the places we visit that make our trips so terrific, but the positive mark we leave along the way.  Over the past thirteen years, Apogee has separated itself from other outdoor organizations by including a community service element with each of our trips.  Our hope is twofold: that our trips will spread generosity and that our students will emerge with a more fully developed sense of community-mindedness.  As a three-year Apogee leader, I have been lucky enough to watch our service projects bear fruit while working with my students on a blueberry farm in Maine, a food bank in northern California, and a wildlife conservatory in Puerto Rico.

Here in Maine, we’ve been working with the phenomenal Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) for the past four years as an integral part of our Maine’s Downeast Explorer trip.  MITA has taken the lead in organizing trail and coastal clean-ups spanning over 200 islands and 375 miles of Maine’s coast.  Brian Marcaurelle of MITA has worked with our groups and has been thrilled with the partnership.  He described MITA’s work with Apogee as a “win-win,” explaining “Apogee students are doing needed work – and the students get something out of it as well.  They are given a nice introduction to the philosophy of taking care of the land you live on for years to come.” As a new Maine resident, I can personally say that our students’ work really does make a difference and has helped to maintain the beautiful land that we often take for granted.

Another great Maine-based organization is the Brunswick- Topsham Land Trust, an organization working to conserve and protect over 1,900 acres of land in Maine’s midcoast area.  BTLT’s Associate Director, Caroline Eliot, has spent time working with some of our youngest Apogee students on our New England Mountains & Coast trip over the last few summers.  With BTLT, our students worked together in the community garden, tended to forest tails, and learned a great deal about our food sources and land conservation.  Caroline said about working with Apogee, “I am always impressed by how enthusiastic the Apogee students are, as well as their leaders.  This year, most of the days we had Apogee groups were pretty hot and humid.  Despite the weather, they pitched right in.” With the help of our amazing leaders, we take pride in the energy and dedication our students put into these projects.  We are excited about the lasting effects we can have on these programs and of course, their effects on us.

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While all of our trips include community service, Apogee also runs service-based trips that provide students with an even larger opportunity to give back, including our Caribbean Service Adventure (CSA) and Montana Service Adventure (MSA). Last summer, I was thrilled to lead CSA.  My co-leader Dylan and I led two amazing groups of teenagers around the island, helping with land conservation, beach clean-ups, and even arranged donated clothes in a Salvation Army.  One of our favorite projects was working with “Reach for Success,” an organization based on the island of Vieques, where we worked at the island’s high school with local teenagers. Along the way we realized we were doing more than just fixing up a school.  We were able to learn about a unique culture, break down our own barriers, and see the world in a new way!  One of the Puerto Rican students, Jay, said, “I enjoyed meeting and spending time with the Apogee students. We bonded and had fun working together, having new experiences and making new friends which I still keep in contact with.  I can’t wait for the next group to come!” Carmen Portela-Weir, director of Reach for Success, loves working with Apogee not only because of the physical work we do, but she also because our students help many of the Puerto Rican teenagers with English.  Carmen notes, “Apogee kids are able to help our children learn more and speak better English.  It is very beneficial and we always enjoy the Apogee kids!”  And trust me – we learned a lot of Spanish from them as well!

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At the end of the day, whether we are in Maine, California, Montana, or Italy, we recognize that community service, and giving back, have a positive impact has on those around us, but, perhaps, a larger effect on ourselves. It has been such an honor to get to work with so many amazing organizations and we are so excited to continue our relationship with many of them for years to come!