By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite Kate Florig's preparations, the plywood houses and widespread poverty still shocked her.
Emily Miles still wants to go into medicine, but the mission trip to Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, which is directly across the border, altered her priorities. She now hopes to open a clinic so more poor people will have better medical care.
Florig and Miles were among several Ursuline High School Students of Stewardship members who won a Power of One Award on May 22 for their service work at the Ozanam Homeless Shelter. The facility provides a safe haven for undocumented people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Their mission work included reading to children, helping with chores and repairing a family's home. The students also brought 16 boxes of medical supplies to the Ursuline Sisters' clinic in Matamoros.
One of 10 awards: The award, sponsored by Channel One Network and Youth Service America, is given to student groups for their service events as part of National Youth Service Day, which was April 21-22. SOS was one of 10 service groups nationwide to receive the award.
Several seniors shared the effects the weeklong trip had on them.
"It made me appreciate and value the things I have, like family," said Adam Buzzacco.
Buzzacco added that the United States and Mexico should work more closely together to solve labor rights and other problems.
"The things we do in the U.S. have consequences in Mexico. The U.S. can do more."
Buzzacco also said he wants to go into the political field and focus on improving the quality of life in that country.
Barbara Cardinale said many Mexican children helped her and the other students with various projects, despite living in extreme poverty. The children made the trip easier, she added.
"It hits you right in the heart," Cardinale said. "It kept our spirits up."
Profound poverty: Poor neighborhoods in Youngstown and some other U.S. cities don't compare with those found in Mexico, Terry Swadener noted.
"I saw whole cities of poor people," the senior said. "It really opens your eyes."
English teacher Amy Morrison and her family also went to Matamoros. Morrison, who coordinated the trip, pointed out each student had to put in at least 30 hours of local service work before they could go.
Local projects: Local SOS projects included home construction with Habitat for Humanity, working at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley's soup kitchen and reading to children with AIDS.
The kids were moved by the trip to Mexico and say that it will have a lasting effect on them, she said.
That view was echoed by Brad ford Harris, who said he was happy to be recognized for his and the group's hard work. Harris added this was his first award for community work.
Morrison also cited certain changes she saw in Matamoros and surrounding areas, compared with last year. Progress included better roads, new churches and government buildings converted into one-room schools. Some neighborhood residents elected a president who will see that the water supply is cleaned up, among other things, she mentioned.
Morrison and Phyllis Patterson, a Spanish teacher who chaperoned last year's group, heard a speech about a trip to the region and decided they had to go.
"It felt like a bolt of lightning, like a spiritual spark," Patterson said.
School awarded grant: Each youth group received a $500 grant, to be presented to the affiliated high school. Funds will go toward local projects and help set up another mission trip for next year.
The award is designed to empower students and youth, said Paul Folkemer, Channel One's executive vice president. About 3 million teen-agers nationwide participated in Youth Service Day, he added.
This is the first year the Power of One Awards have been given, Folkemer said.
Other award winners were Colleen Kovach, 17; Shaina Drummond, 17; Keith Coleman, 17; Dan Deckant, 17; and Katie DeMario, 17.