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Humanitarian efforts humble local realtor and travel agent

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Sometimes happiness is found where you least expect it. For Morgan residents Jerry and Nancy Pierce and their daughter Brook Lake, happiness was found on a cruise ship, but not for the reason you would imagine.
Lake is a travel agent with local agency Traverse Tours and Travel. When Lake’s employer Mauricio Melendez first told her about the opportunity to take part in a humanitarian cruise, she was intrigued. Melendez found a way to sponsor Lake’s first-ever humanitarian trip and that set the ball in motion for her parents to join her in this endeavor. They teamed up with 10 other Utahans on the journey of a lifetime aboard a Carnival Cruise ship.
Lake was excited to hit the open waters and cruise to tropical islands, but she was surprised to find that her favorite part of the trip was not the cool breezes, sunshine and fabulous buffets. Her joy was found in the faces of the many humble island residents she met along the way.
“When you pull into the ports, you are surrounded by beautiful water and lush vegetation. Once you get out of the tourist area, you are surrounded by real-life circumstances,” said Jerry.
These real-life circumstances include things that most people think they understand—cinderblock homes and schools, dirt floors, generations of families all living in the same home with one mattress—situations you “think” you understand until you see it. But there is something very powerful about actually stepping into that reality.
“I have always seen pictures and heard stories about other countries and the conditions that they live in, but it took it to a whole new level being there and seeing this for myself,” said Lake.
The first place the beautiful cruise ship took them was Roatan, Honduras. Lake was astounded at the conditions there. “I couldn’t believe the conditions that these children went to school in,” said Lake. “They were in a cement-like building with bars on the windows. All of the children sat along the walls. Some shared chairs while others sat on cardboard boxes on the ground. I couldn’t believe that they go to school like this every day in the heat with no air-conditioning, not having all the necessities for school work,” she continued ponderously.
“It made me really grateful for the school system that we have. Yeah the heater might not work one day or the air-conditioning might be broken, but we are so blessed to have the facilities, teachers and supplies that we do,” she said.
As the group made their way back to the van to go to the next destination, a few of the little girls at this school came up to some of the ladies in the group wanting hugs goodbye. Lake said hugging those sweet kids was the highlight of that day.
After visiting the school and providing them with some much-needed supplies, the philanthropists traveled to an orphanage for boys and helped paint some of their hallways.
Lake’s father, Jerry, is not only a local realtor, but a hobbyist magician as well. He took the opportunity to bring smiles to little faces while they painted. “The smiles on the children’s (and adults) faces were priceless,” Jerry said. “I loved being able to entertain and captivate them with my magic.”
Lake said at this orphanage a little 5-year-old boy named Calvin stole her heart. “He was my buddy for the day. He helped us paint, played soccer with us, and enjoyed the magic tricks that my dad did for them.”
The trio then made their way to Belize. Things on this day didn’t go completely as planned, but it is said that everything happens for a reason. Because the group was short on time, they were not able to go to the original school they were scheduled to visit. Fortunately, the agency found a closer school that was in need of help for them to visit.
“When we found the school that we were going to visit and serve, we broke up into groups and started going room to room visiting with each of the classes and talking to them about the importance of school and staying in school as well as hygiene. Dad did his magic and I loved watching their faces and hearing their laughter after every trick,” smiled Lake.
Lake noted, “As we were giving their principal some school supplies, she got a little emotional and told us that God had sent us to their school today. I guess that you could say there was a reason that our plans were changed.”
Everywhere the group traveled to, they were welcomed with open arms. Lake gushed that she had never seen so many grateful and happy people.
The last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. Both Lake and her parents agree, this was the most inspiring dot on the map.
“This was one place that definitely touched me the most,” declared Lake. The leaders of the group visit the same family and neighborhood whenever they get the opportunity to serve in Cozumel. “Walking through the neighborhood to get to their home, I couldn’t believe the conditions that these people were living in,” Lake recalled.
Families in this area have anywhere from eight to 15 people living in these tiny homes with dirt floors, no running water, no electricity and a stone kitchen.
Jerry added, “The whole neighborhood looked like a tornado hit it. A whole family was living with their Grandma because her daughter’s husband was hit by a car and killed. Their circumstances were so bad. They had to share hammocks to sleep and had to build a fire for heat and cooking. We took in clothing and toys for the children, and they were so grateful.”
Lake was as grateful for the experience as the family was for the household items. “As I saw these little kids running around barefoot with huge smiles on their face and so excited to see us, it melted my heart.
“It really touched my heart to see this family. They were living in these conditions, yet they were some of the happiest people that I have ever met! I think about how many things I take for granted or things that I complain about back home that these people would be so grateful for. It really opened my eyes and made me grateful for the things that I am so blessed with,” remembered Lake fondly.
After visiting with this family, some of the group worked out in the yard while others organized storage items.
“Being able to feel like we made a difference was the best thing,” recalled Jerry. “The personal interaction with the children and adults felt so good. I would recommend this to anyone. It is a great way to serve and would be perfect for families to participate in. “
Lake added that everyone, young and old, should take the opportunity to take a humanitarian trip. “It really opens your eyes. Once I got back home, I couldn’t help but feel so grateful: Grateful for the opportunity to go; grateful that I was blessed to be raised and live in Morgan; grateful for the people in my life; and grateful for the many things that I have and take for granted.”
“It left us craving for more. We can’t stop thinking about the experiences. It inspires us to serve more, especially those in our own community,” concluded Jerry and Nancy.
Those wishing to serve and looking for a way to do it can contact Traverse Tours & Travel. The agency works with multiple organizations and can help find the perfect humanitarian experience for you.

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