|First church of Winsted
95 North Main Street
Winsted, Connecticut 06098
American Baptist ~ United Church of Christ
|2018 MEXICO MISSION
JT and Cat flew out of Merida early this morning. Because we would
have had to left the hotel on the coast at 4:30 am and due to my
allergies to the morning, they stayed in Merida last night.
We dropped Bob off in the historic district of Merida after checking in
for our afternoon flight. He is staying in Merida a couple of days to do
some more exploring.
As we get ready to board our flight back, this is an appropriate time to
award our Golden Paintbrush Awards (GPA).
The GPA for best stand up comedians goes to Bob and JT. They helped
us keep our sense of humor throughout the trip. If Catharine had not told
us in advance, we would have thought that the two had been married to
each other for more than 25 years given their constant bickering and
The GPA for most attention attention to detail goes to Debby, as she
painted the trim in a way that would give Michelangelo a run for his
money. We note that Michelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel
in less time than it took for Debby to complete the trim in one room...
The GPA for most creative work with silicone caulk goes to Frank for
his re-sealing over 100 panes of glass. Planning isn't required for this
award we visited hardware stores 4 times for caulk. In the other hand, I
became a personal friend to the clerk at the local store...
The GPA for doing the most unwanted task goes to Cat for telling her
Dad when to turn and when to stop (to avoid bumping into parked
vehicles and walls). The others were amazed at her courage and
patience in dealing with me. And as you may recall, the one time Cat
was not navigating we ended up at Costco instead of the school...
The GPA for ability to subtlely rolling her eyes goes to Alex. She
adeptly took on different tasks, sometimes working with her Dad and at
other times working with any of the other adults. Not once did she say
out loud how lame the adults we're acting. Alex is heading to college
in Northern Vermont in August, and this trait will serve her well at
Finally, Laura is awarded the choreography GPA. She made sure we
hydrated on a regular basis and was always watching out for us all.
She was the perfect utility outfielder as she filled in when another was
needed for a particular job. Most importantly, she did not take away
my camera as I took the picture of Debby sound asleep on the exercise
This trip would not have been possible without the support of the
members and friends of First Church of Winsted and of the behind the
scenes support of Dafne Hernandez and her family and friends in
Mexico. The last week was a true example of what can be done when
people across borders and from different walks of life work together
for a common cause. We also tip our hats to Marian and the staff at
Solyluna as they serve a group of children who would have been left
behind without appropriate services.
Thanks and God bless you all!
Friday, July 13th
With the outreach portion of the trip completed, I wanted to recap the
work completed by the team.
We painted all the exterior surfaces of the Reforma facility (for
younger children), including the building itself and the wall along the
sidewalk. Cat, JT and Bob for climbing onto the roof to hang over and
paint the overhang around the entire building. Laura and Debby were
the Trim Queens, while Alex, Frank and I played the role of the the
Holy Rollers. We used a new, vinyl based paint hoping that its
elasticity will better tolerate the extreme weather of high heat, high
humidity, and lots of rain.
The team also did a makeover of the backyard and front gardens. The
foot high vegetation was no match for the new weed wacker we
purchased for Solyluna at the local Home Depot. An entire spool of
string was used to get the job done.
On Monday afternoon, we watched a storm wash off a good part of the
4 hours of painting done in the morning. But the team rallied on
Tuesday and was still able to complete the painting that day as
Because of the constant bubbling and peeling of paint off a few
interior, plaster walls, a local workman convinced us that he "had the
solution." He was right, as we painted the wall 2 years ago and it
looked no different than the way we found it before applying a new
coat of plaster and painting the wall. We absorbed the cost of having
him do that work. Also, when we eyeballed the dimensions for a
requested screen door to the back storage room/staff bathroom, we
realized that none of us had the ability to build a custom-sized
aluminum screen door. Install, yes. Build, not really. So we also
absorbed the cost of that work for the school.
On Wednesday, we ventured to the Hidalgo building, the location of
the programs for the older children. We repainted a wall in the office
that was damaged due to an unusually bad storm that caused lots of
interior water damage. We also painted the largest room of the facility
that is broken into 3 separate program areas for the children. It took 3
coats of paint, as we covered a deep, dark red wall with white paint.
While Frank, JT, Bob and Cat worked on re-caulking and sealing over
100 panes of glass (along with replacing nearly 24 of them), Debby,
Laura, Alex and I focused on the painting. Debby and Laura installed
nearly 100 feet of new vinyl mop board in the room we painted to give
the room a look of being totally new.
With the help of a newly purchased electric drill, a drill bit and some
bolts, washers and nuts, JT and Bob fixed a wrought iron handle that
opened and closed the windows in the office. Not being able to open
all the windows in the office made for a difficult work environment.
There were a few small jobs that were also completed. For example,
we removed a tree that was growing in the roof of one of the
buildings. The roots of the tree was causing structural damage to the
roof, but we think the situation is corrected.
So now we're in our decompress time. We are on the Gulf of Mexico
in a hotel that sits alone, some 30 kms from the nearest village with a
store (the village of Progreso, where we went last evening to hunt for
Adjusting from going full speed to not having to meet any deadlines
wasn't easy for most of the team members. The photos of Alex, Cat and
Frank are the reason why we don't get in their way when they are on a
mission.... Pretty serious looks on their faces, and when they are
handling a weapon, all the more reason to not get in their way! We;re
not competitive in any way whatsoever, but FYI, Frank had the second
highest score (and there were some pretty serious Mexican
competitors) and Cat had the fourth highest score!
Thursday, July 12th
Thursday was another productive day at the facility for the older
children. The night before we hit a gold mile at Home Depot... We
found vinyl mop board to put at the bottom of the walls we painted.
Purchased 120 feel of it and today Debby and Laura installed it. It
wasn't as easy as one might think. Unlike the mop board you purchase
in the United States, what we purchased did not have an adhesive
backing. So we had to purchase a litre and a half of liquid contact
cement which smells exactly like plastic model glue that we used when
we were kids. Yes, the kind that they don't sell anymore because of
potential misuse (glue sniffing). The air is very still inside the building
and we didn't have fans to ventilate the facility. So we waited until the
children we outside of the building. And we had everyone else outside
working on the windows so they wouldn't breath int he vapors.
The photo (overworked team) can indicate that either I have worked
our team too hard this week, or that I put too much pressure on Debby
and Laura to get the mop board job done at any cost.... In any case,
thank God for the gym mats in the therapy room where they were
working. And don't worry. Debby is fine. The bruises on my arm
resulting from her reaction to my taking the photo are evidence that the
glue vapors had no impact on her.
We were way ahead of schedule and completed everything on Marian's
wish list for the week at 1pm. So we took the opportunity to have
lunch with Marian at a local seafood restaurant. The children of
Solyluna presented the team with a poster expressing their thanks for
our work. Some of the older students and their teachers are in the
photo (thanks from Solyluna). When we went back to the other facility
(for the younger children), the children there gave us a similar
expression of thanks with their hand prints and words of thanks for the
Back to the theme of overworking the team members, I mentioned
yesterday that as the days pass, team members sometimes get grouchier
and grouchier. There have also been some complaints that I should not
have put Bob in time out for teasing JT about JT's ability to creatively
find solutions to some of the challenges we faced. The honest truth is
that they both brought a level of expertise that we really needed for the
trip. (Time out photo) Contrary to the rumors, Bob wasn't put in time
out. We just didn't have enough seats in the van to take Marain with us
to lunch. So following the Mexican family tradition of finding space for
many extra people in a vehicle, Bob agreed to sit in the trunk of the
minivan. The others were a bit upset that Bob said he did that because
others had sweat too much in the morning....
The new mop board was an extra item that wasn't on the wish list of
work item, and it looks great with the newly painted walls (Mopboard
1 and Mopboard 2).
We witnessed another aspect of Mexican creativity when we returned
home and found a recently laundered clothes (you would not want us to
wear the same clothes in this heat and humidity without it being washed
regularly) hanging on a makeshift clothes line in the driveway of the
house. Rosie had it all hanging without the use of a single clothes pin.
It's been a great week, and we've accomplished more than we thought
possible. We thank God for the team members, their willingness to do
just about anything to get the jobs done, and for putting up with the head
At our lunch with Marian we presented her with a new laptop
computer for Solyluna. Last year, the day after we left, there was a
break-in at one of the facilities and the thieves stole all the computers
in that building. We couldn't replace everything they lost, but thanks to
our generous supporters and benefactors, we purchased a very good
Dell laptop with the latest microprocessor for Solyluna.
On one final serious note, you may have heard that the government of
the Yucatan State issued a health advisory for Merida and its
surroundings. There has been an outbreak of an unusual strain of the
flu. We are aware of the situation and are following the government's
recommendations (not using public transportation, etc.). We have
since left the city and are not located 59 miles north of the city in a
much lower risk area. So if it happens to show up in the news, don't
worry. Everyone is fine and we have taken precautions to avoid
exposing anyone to the flu epidemic.
Wednesday, July 11th
Wednesday is usually the hardest day of the Mission Trip. When we
started the Mission Trips and worked with Simply Smiles, we would
work half a day and then spend the rest of the day doing something
relaxing and fun. Well, that was not in the cards for this group.
That's not to say that the day didn't have its challenges. Today was our
first day of work at the Hidalgo facility, which houses the programs for
the older children. When we arrived there yesterday afternoon to do a
preliminary walk thru to scope out the work that needed to be done
there, I set my GPS until to that location. When I pushed on the
"Solyluna Hidalgo" icon on the GPS this morning, it took us to Costco,
which was on the wrong side of the city....
Then there was the issue of needing Mexican currency and my ATM
card being rejected twice at different banks' ATM machines. When I
went to a third ATM, it finally worked and I was able to withdraw a
bunch of Mexican pesos. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I
realized that the bank employee who was in the lobby where the ATMs
were located was running after my mini-van. She was waiving my
ATM card. I was very self-conscious in the bank because I was
covered in paint (lots of white paint on my black shorts, etc.), and I
wanted to get out as quickly as possible. In my haste, I ran off without
taking my ATM card out of the machine...
When we arrived at the school, everyone went into autopilot and
started working. As I previously mentioned, in years past, I would
have to break away from the group an hour or so before lunch to go out
and buy the fixings for lunch or to buy some prepared food. This year,
the staff of Solyluna insisted that they prepare our lunch every day. By
staring with the group all morning, I now realize how hard everyone
Today we completed all the requested interior painting, which
included changing the color of the main activities room for the
children. Laura, Alexandra and Debby spent the entire day working on
that project. Cat painted a portion of the office where there was water
damage due to recent storms. Bob and JT figured out how to fix a
broken hinge on the lever that opened the windows in the office. After
purchasing an electric drill, a drill bit and some screws and nuts at a
local hardware store, they got that job done. Frank, along with the help
of many of the other team members, chipped out the cracked adhesive
around the windows of the entire building (which consists of more than
100 panes of glass), and used silicone caulk to set the windows back
into their metal frames. We purchased 24 new panes of glass to
replace broken or missing window panes.
In the afternoon, one of the teachers who works with the students on
motor skills and basic life skills demonstrated some of the exercises to
help the students become self-sufficient. They also make pinatas that
are sold to help defray the costs of the school.
We worked late and got back to the house around 7 pm. We then
enjoyed a dinner prepared by the New Mexico contingent of our group
Kudos to the members of the team who have done an incredible amount
of work this week for the benefit of Solyluna!
Tuesday, July 10th
Our day started at 7 am with a breakfast of French Toast and leftover
bacon. We were on the road by 8 and at the school before 8:30. I told
Marian that we would finish painting the building today, and she
looked at me as if I was crazy.
The prior day's storm did require us to paint over many sections of the
building, but the team quickly went to work and we managed to finish
painting the entire exterior of the building. In addition to the painting,
the backyard, side yard and front yard were all weed wacked with the
new toy purchased at Home Depot yesterday.
We thank God that there was no rain today, but that meant that it was
much hotter than Monday. The high was around 97, and the humidity
made it feel like it was at least 105 degrees. The folks at Solyluna
prepared lunch for us again. Today we had chicken prepared in a
typical local manner with corn tortillas and rice. It was delicious!
After lunch, we cleaned up the yards by clearing out a few years of
accumulated junk. We discovered a tree growing on the roof. It was
quite healthy, but its root stem was compromising the integrity of the
roof. Taking it out was easy. Filling in the hole in the roof was not as
easy. From the roof we could see some masons working a couple
houses down the road. We asked Marian to speak with the masons in
hope they would be intrested in a side job. Sure enough, they were.
Francisco came over and patched the hole with cement.
Attached are before and after photos of the building.
After completing our work at the facility for younger children, we wen
over to the other facility to scope out the work that needed to be done
We wore everyone out today, and after dinner consisting of pizza and
Caesar salad from Costco, everyone called it an early night.
Hats off to the team for accomplishing so much in a day and a half!
Monday, July 9th
Rain, Rain, Go Away, Come back we we don't have projects to
We started the day with lots of sunshine and breakfast at 7:00 am that
included scrambled eggs, bacon (turkey and regular), and toast. Dafne
came to the house and led us to the Solyluna facility for younger
children. Vacation time has arrived so there were only a few children
at the school. However, the staff conducted classes for those who
Marian, the director of the school, greeted us as we arrived and
remembered each of the team member who had been to the facility
before. She also gave us a tour of the facility and told us about the
programs offered at Solyluna.
After a short discussion of the work that needed to be done during our
stay, We decided that the heat and humidity was causing the paint to
peel a few years after it was applied. So I was dispatched to the paint
store to seek out elastomeric paint for the exterior walls while Frank
repaired the screens on classroom windows while the others took to
scraping the walls that needed a coat of paint.
When I returned with a vinyl based paint (with a 10 year guarantee),
most of the scrapping was done. A primer/sealant was applied to the
bare concrete. And by noon, we were ready to begin applying the
exterior paint. The midday sun was hot and the temperature felt like it
was rising toward 100 degrees. Although getting a tan was not on the
to-do list for today, we were getting one whether or not we wanted it.
In a change from prior years, we didn't have our traditional lunch
sandwich that consisted of a bolillo (the Mexican version of French
Bread), ham, Oaxacan cheese, a slice of tomato, and a jalapeno
pepper. Marian insisted that Solyluna provide us with lunch each day
that we are there. Today's lunch was fish tacos. We enjoyed lunch
immensely, and we then got back to work.
At 3 o'clock, the sky was suddenly filled with clouds, and the rain
began to fall. Before long, the rain was falling so hard that the road in
front of the facility was flooded and the wind was howling. We tried
to wait out the rain, but he rain outlasted us. We prepped an interior
wall for painting but could do little else. So we returned to the house
earlier than expected. We used the free couple of hours to go to the
local Home Depot to purchase a week wacker for Solyluna.
Tonight's dinner was the dinner that Dafne had prepared for us
yesterday. We called it an early night hoping that we can "catch up" on
the work we wanted to complete today along with the activities planed
Sunday, July 8th
Although the director of Solyluna agreed that we could work on Sunday
this year, it was the recommendation of everyone from Mexico that we
not work and instead rest up for a very busy week.
In the afternoon, we drove out of the city to a small town where there is
an underground cave that is filled with fresh spring water (a "cenote").
We descended into the dark cave to find crystal clear water inside the
cave. As we did so, our hearts and thoughts were with those in
Thailand who find themselves in a life-threatening situation. Thank
God for the employees of the town who kept us all safe. The people of
Mexico really care about everyone, and a elderly instructed her
daughter, who spoke English, to approach our group and to explain
how to safely enter and exit the water.
On our way back home, we made our first Costco run, getting many of
the supplies that we would be needing throughout the week. It rained
in the evening, and the temperature dropped from the 90's into the 70's
in a matter of minutes.
The team divided up and some prepared our first meal in the house.
Others did the clean up. We then called it an early evening to rest up
for a lot of hard work in a very hot and humid environment.
Saturday, July 7th
This year's team included 3 people from the Onion Mountain Technical
Rescue Squad in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cat, Bob and JT (John)
decided that the rest of the team would benefit from their expertise
since they were relying on me to drive them around Merida.
Both the Connecticut members and the New Mexico members departed
at 6 am (local time) and we met up in Atlanta for the flight to Merida.
This is a new, non-stop flight, so we saved 5-6 hours by not having to
connect through Mexico City. We learned, however, that the
immigration and customs process in Merida is much more meticulous
than it is in Mexico City. It probably is due to the sheer number of
people arriving to Mexico City from foreign destinations. We've never
been asked before why we were visiting the country. All the checked
luggage was thoroughly checked by Golden Retrievers. As I waited in
line for immigration clearance, I watched the customs officials take my
red duffle bag off the carousel, the dog sniff it, and immediately sit
down. The dog was able to smell some chocolates in the bag, and a
customs agent carefully checked my entire bag.
We also went through our usual rental car game. I had a reservation
with a company for a minivan at a rate of $250 for the week. When I
tried to pick it up, I was informed that mandatory liability insurance
would raise the price to $600 for the week. Having played this game
with other rental companies in years past, I had a back-up reservation
at another rental car agency. That reservation was honored at the
slightly higher price quoted when I made the reservation.
This year we rented a house rather than stay at a local hotel. The father
of the woman who owns the house met us at the airport and then lead us
to the house. It's a very large home (the family who lives here is away
for the week). We settled in and then went to dinner with Dafne,
Enrique, their two children and Dafne's aunt and husband. It was
Dafne's birthday, and we brought her a few gifts for her birthday and to
thank her for assisting the Mission Trip teams for over 12. In fact,
Enrique and Dafne's father were members of a Mission Trip team years
The rather poorly taken group photo (just about everyone has zombie
red eye) includes our friends from Mexico and the New Mexico
contingent along with our First Church members.
After our dinner at a restaurant that specialized in local cuisine, we
joined a walking tour of the historical district of the city. It included
actors and actresses in costume who shared with us the history of the
city. As part of the tour, we walked through some tunnels under the
city that connect churches to government buildings to the homes of
some very influential people in the city.
We ended the evening with a shopping trip to a 24-hour grocery store.
We purchased the basic necessities knowing that on Sunday there
would be various trips to Costco and Sam's Club.
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