The First Academy brings hope to the Bahamas during mission trip

Families recently embarked on a mission trip to help the people of Freeport after Hurricane Dorian.

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  • | 7:05 p.m. January 15, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Homes damaged and left abandoned. Cars flipped over, laying in front yards. Businesses shut down.

After four months, there’s still so much work to be done.

That was the takeaway for families at The First Academy who traveled to the Bahamas over the Christmas break to aid those in need following the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. 

A group of roughly 30 students, parents and teachers traveled to Freeport to help the people of the Bahamas get back up on their feet.

The trip to the islands came about when teacher Kara Pastis and The First Academy parents started talking about ways to help.

“Obviously, watching all of the devastation on TV, we started talking about trying to come up with something,” parent Lisa Millar said.

Pastis took it upon herself to contact Rick Schuessler with Champs Missions — a nonprofit organization in the Bahamas focused on serving broken families and their children. Schuessler’s wife, Fran, also is a teacher at The First Academy. 

“Once the hurricane hit, I went right back to Rick and was like, ‘I know this is where we need to go,’” Pastis said.

Rick Schuessler, who’s been doing mission work in the Bahamas for 30 years, was familiar with several organizations and people who needed help on the island.

The group of families arrived Dec. 28 to help, with some staying as long as Jan. 2 to lend a hand.

“It’s still so devastating to go there — there’s so much that’s still not working, not rebuilt,” Millar said. “Flying in you see blue tarps everywhere. There’s blue tarps on top of all the homes when you’re flying in.”

Husbands and sons helped reroof a 4,500-square-foot facility that was being converted into a preschool. 

“They worked with a local pastor there — he and his wife were going to get the facility up and running as soon as they could,” Millar said.

“They got a huge portion of the roof done,” she said. “Actually, the pastor said what the men did in two days would have taken three months without their help.”

Meanwhile, the wives and daughters gave two of the four buildings at the Grand Bahama Children’s Home a fresh coat of paint.

“I think it’s so meaningful for kids and families and adults to do things for others — it sort of changes the conversation and it gets kids thinking of what they can do,” Pastis said. “All of our kids are wondering what they can do next.”

It was an experience that students like Hadley Miller will remember for years to come.

“I thought it was a really cool experience — it was really eye-opening seeing how people can be so joyful in where they live with having so little,” Miller said.

“I thought it was really cool just being able to help the people there and seeing how thankful they were,” student Emma Pastis said. “It really just made me (feel) very fortunate for what I’m thankful enough to have here in Florida.”

Millar, who traveled with her husband and three children, added that the trip was an amazing experience for the families that went.

“It’s devastating to see it, but it was beautiful — it was an amazing, fulfilling trip,” Millar said. “When we came home, all five of us did not want to leave. We worked our tails off for two days straight. Our hearts were overflowing with emotion and gratitude toward Rick and Fran and Kara for including us in this beautiful experience.

“At the end of the day, TFA and this group of families were all led by the Lord to do this,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for — to serve others.”

The work done by the families ties directly in to what The First Academy tries to instill in its students, Millar said.

“My husband and I have said since our children started at TFA — the most beautiful thing that we’ve watched, regardless of education and their participation in sports and all these wonderful things that every school offers, is to watch their character grow and their empathy for those around them,” Millar said. “TFA really does instill a sense of character.”

Millar said that families from The First Academy hope to return to the Bahamas in May with supplies and donations for those in need.

“They are so far from recovery — I think eight to 10 years from being anywhere close to where they were before,” Millar said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done over there.”



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