By: Jillian Sims: Marketing and Operations Manager

For Regional Director, Kendra Gray, every fall for the past eight years means one thing: Havasupai trip preparations. Each year, about 25 exchange students along with a few local coordinators and some host families gather for a few days of camping, hiking, and volunteering in breathtaking Arizona landscape. It is an experience that everyone involved looks forward to and cherishes afterwards.

Kendra reflects on the trip, recalling the prep it takes and what it’s all about for her:

“Two weeks before the trip my life and mind is Havasupai. People often ask me why I do this; it is because I love it and the experience the kids gain. This is a trip of accomplishment, team work, and learning and truly unlike any trip with quality fun time together.”

The students love the trip as well, and while the main attraction might be the fun of camping with friends out in the wild beauty of their host country, the joy of giving back by volunteering with CCI Greenheart’s Greenheart Club is usually one of the lasting memories of the trip. During the trip, the students and families meet the Native American tribe that lives within the Grand Canyon Park and are sustained by the tourism industry. After learning a bit about these people, the students help to clean the park, which is unfortunately littered by visitors.

Maria, a student on the trip, says “While being surrounded by the wild nature of the Grand Canyon, the last thing you want to see is a candy wrapper or an empty plastic bottle… Only by setting a few hours off for volunteer work, one can make a great difference.”

Local Coordinator, Jackie Schmidgall, recalls:

“As our students lamented why people would defile the beautiful land, they were also proud of the results they received from a few hours of work. It was a small price to pay for the memories created in this beautiful country, where ‘Havasupai’ means ‘People of the blue-green water.'”

For Kendra and her region, this trip has become one of the most memorable and joyous moments of the exchange year. Lucia from Spain says, “It was amazing. The new exchange students were awesome, and the ones that I already know are just giving me more and more excuses to love them with all my heart … and of course our wonderful coordinators that just make us laugh all the time and make this incredible experience happen.” When Kendra is asked why she has spent so many years in cultural exchange, she responds “It is a life changing experience that connects you to the world. It is truly creating a lifelong connection with a son/daughter abroad..”

Learn more about how you can join the CCI Greenheart family as a host, exchange student, or local coordinator!