Each year, more than 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon to marvel at its beauty and splendor. Few are aware that this “wonder of the world” boasts the only school district in the United States actually situated inside a national park.
For the last two years, a small group of Althoff Catholic seniors have visited the Grand Canyon for their senior service project. Students have had the opportunity to experience the Canyon, become acquainted with Navajo culture and immerse themselves in the unique community that is the Grand Canyon Unified School District. This year, 11 students embarked on this special three-week journey, and among them was Garrett Hurst.
In considering his options for senior service project, Garrett was looking to challenge himself to go out of his comfort zone. Having the opportunity to see the Grand Canyon and experience Navajo culture sounded like something that would be a fun and rewarding experience. “I never expected the experience to be life-changing or something that would be permanently etched into my memory,” said Garrett.
Garrett was assigned to Ms. Campbell’s second grade classroom. His daily activities ranged from tutoring children with mental disabilities to playing tag at recess. From the very first day, Garrett formed a special bond with two of the students in the class–twins Matthew and Gary. In many ways, the twins were your typical 2nd grade boys: they liked to sing, dance and have fun. However, Matthew and Gary had experienced more loss as second graders than most will experience over the course of a lifetime. “The twins lost their mother, father and older sister within a few short years of each other,” said Garrett. “By the end of my first day with them, they told me I was their best friend.”
One day after school, Garrett went to visit the boys at their daycare so he could spend some time with them outside of school. Earlier in the week, Garrett had shared with the boys that he wasn’t a very good dancer. They took his visit to their daycare as the prime opportunity to show him some moves! “After the lesson, the boys confirmed for me that I wasn’t a good dancer at all,” said Garrett. “You are really good at math, and we are good at dancing and singing, so we can teach each other!” the boys exclaimed. After his first visit to the daycare, the boys wanted Garrett to come to their house and meet their grandma.
Garrett remembers pausing in this moment, half laughing and half crying. He thought to himself: “This is what the senior service project is all about; this is what life is about–living for others and helping who you can. Through serving others, we find our own happiness and gain so much more than we give.”
Garrett learned a lot from all 18 children in the second grade classroom and gained a new perspective on things. Many of the children experienced great personal challenges from language barriers, to mental disabilities and having to travel far from home to school. He also saw great similarities between himself and the kids: they are smart, they like to have fun, and they look forward to bright and promising futures.
Garrett’s Advice to Underclassmen on Senior Service
“I challenge you to leave your comfort zone and do something that isn’t easy. Try something that scares you. Go into it with an open mind and giving heart; you may be surprised how your life changes.”
Garrett Hurst is a member of St. Henry’s parish and is a graduate of Central Junior High School. As a Crusader, he is involved in a variety of clubs and organizations, including the National Honor Society, Crusaders Against Alcohol and Drugs (CAAD), Saturday Scholars, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also plays baseball, golf and is the captain of the school’s bass fishing team. In the fall, Garrett is planning a pre-med/health sciences major. He is still exploring his college options; however, Saint Louis University, Washington University and Creighton are at the top of his list.