“Love is simple, Olyvia. You don’t have to do much to make someone’s day,” my mom told me. There came a time in my life, a little over a year ago, when I had the desire to make a difference, to impact someone’s life positively. My good friend Kaylee told me about a trip she took to Gary, West Virginia, and how it was a life-changing experience. After looking into service opportunities, I decided to go on a mission trip to Gary.
Eager to participate, I talked to my parents; they didn’t say yes right away. My dad was concerned about my safety. Thankfully, after I showed my parents information about the trip and attended some meetings, they said I could go. The process and preparation took a while, but it was worth every minute. This was a dream coming true.
When we arrived in Gary, I noticed how different the town was from where I lived. Houses were built on little hills. Some of them didn’t have doors or windows. Some had lattice instead; it was cheaper than screens and helped keep animals out. There were few stores or restaurants in town; most had closed. You were lucky to find a gas station or grocery store.
My job was to help repair houses. The work days were long and hot. We awoke at 5 a.m. and worked through the day in 90 degree heat. There were always encouraging people by my side who helped keep me going.
The children I met in Gary were unique. Despite their poverty, they seemed to cherish every moment that God gave them, and they hoped for the best for the future. The littlest things would make these kids happy. There aren’t words to describe the joy I saw when the local kids received an ice cream, a ball, a bike, or even a hug. I found it inspiring that the community was like a big family. Everyone knew each other and was there when someone needed help.
I am so glad I decided to go on that mission trip. It was indeed life changing and worth every tear, every drop of sweat, and every minute of hard work. I am thankful to have been able to work with an amazing group and community. I truly learned what it means to put others’ needs before mine.
As my mom said, “Love is simple, Olyvia.” It’s true – you don’t have to do very much to make someone happy. My goal during this experience was not only to make someone’s day, but to make their life happier. Little did I know that helping others would change my life as well. Gary, West Virginia, will always be in my heart.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.