Seniors do service work around the world

A typical summer for most RB students, turned out to be an exciting and eye opening one for three RB seniors.  Vija Lietuvninkas, Connor Halline, and Emily Hejna, all spent part of their summer doing service work in three different countries around the world.  The students got to experience what it’s like to live in another part of the world and were able to help those who are less fortunate.


“I loved how the kids warmed up to us,” said Lietuvninkas of the Lithuanian kids she looked after at a children’s center.  Lietuvninkas left school a few weeks before this past summer break and headed to Lithuania, a country in Eastern Europe.  During her three weeks of service, she spent her time volunteering at a rural children’s center.

“The center was basically a safe haven for these kids who come from homes with parents that are abusive and aren’t good role models,” said Lietuvninkas.

Lietuvninkas planned her trip through Child’s Gate to Learning, an organization within her Lithuanian community.  About half of her expenses for the trip were paid through the RBEF.

Lietuvninkas stayed in a part of the country where the dialect was very difficult to understand, but felt that it was easier to make a connection with the kids because she is fluent in Lithuanian.

She worked with about 20 kids, ages 7 through 15, who enjoyed hanging out, having fun, and being loved by the volunteers like Lietuvninkas.

“Just seeing how much they loved us because of the attention and love we gave them was so rewarding,” said Lietuvninkas, “We were the highlight of their day.”

She enjoyed doing different crafts with the kids, especially making bracelets, the activity they enjoyed the most.

“I wear bracelets they made me so I can keep them close to my heart,” said Lietuvninkas, “Every time I look at the bracelets I think of them.”


“I got addicted to coffee; they had the best coffee in the world,” said Halline of Costa Rica.

This past summer, Halline spent a month doing four different service projects in the Central American country of Costa Rica.  He applied for the trip by filling out an application through AFS (American Field Service).

Halline was in a work crew of about 17 other high school students from across the country.  He spent time on a self sustaining farm, renovated two high schools by fixing tiles and bathrooms, and built trails in the rain forest.

“We basically had to carry bags of sand and rock through the rain forest for three miles,” said Halline.

Halline lived with his group in a barn for the first and last week of his trip and stayed with two different Costa Rican host families for the two weeks in-between.

“At first it was really awkward but I was able to speak Spanish almost fluently,” he said.

Halline enjoyed learning a lot of Spanish and even got to be a guest speaker on a Spanish radio talk show.

“It was a really great experience and I made a lot of close friendships,” said Halline.


“It was rewarding because the people are truly grateful for anything you do,” said Hejna of her experiences in Africa.

This past summer Hejna spent a little more than two weeks in Hohoe, a small village in Ghana, Africa.  She applied for her trip through a teen program called Cross Cultural Solutions and had to write an essay and interview for the spot.  Some of her expenses for the trip were paid through a grant from the school and from sponsors who Hejna asked to donate money.

Hejna worked on many different projects during her trip including painting the outside of a hospital, visiting the school for the deaf and mentally disabled, and helping out at an orphanage.

She spent time at the orphanage, playing with children who only spoke some English.  They enjoyed drawing pictures for the volunteers like Hejna.

“The kids at the orphanage wrote things like, I love you Emily,” said Hejna, “It was heartbreaking.”

She stayed in a house with the other teen volunteers and experienced different African culture lessons presented by dance groups and speakers.  Hejna enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers who were from all over the United States as well as other countries like Canada, England and Belgium.

Although Ghana is one of the more stable countries in Africa, Hejna saw people living in tin roof huts and experiencing a very different lifestyle.

“I had to get 5 or 6 shots because of the foreign diseases I could catch,” said Hejna, “The food also made a lot of us sick because we weren’t used to it.”

Hejna, who has wanted to go to Africa since junior high, was grateful for her experiences and enjoyed getting to know the different people she encountered on her trip.

“It was cool to see how other people live,” said Hejna, “It makes you appreciate your own life a lot more.”