Youth Helping Children in Guatemalan Village

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Stone Soup Leadership Institute’s Community Service Project 2019

The Stone Soup Leadership Institute held its annual Community Service Project this fall to benefit a remote school in La Puerta, Guatemala. The Institute’s team member Berta Paleaz led the project with youth Lya and Leaslie Perez; Maria Rodriguez, Izzy Perez, Evelin Perez and Mac Cullen. With support from: Beth Cullen,  Lola Herrera and Namgyal Gyaltshen.

Berta moved from Guatemala to America when she was just 13 years old. She is now a college graduate and an inspiration to our young people. Every year she travels to her homeland to do whatever she can to help.

Our youth were intrigued when Berta shared about this school and the challenges the students face.  La Puerta is a village on a mountain where there aren’t opportunities to succeed. In these mostly indigenous areas, there are precious little resources.  Low school attendance and poor conditions, especially in this rural western region, plague the school system.  There are about two million children in the country who never attend any level of formal education.

Transportation to La Puerta is complicated. Teachers pay so they can catch a ride in the back of a truck, weather permitting. In the winter it rains every day so the dirt roads turn to mud. Then everyone must walk to school.  There are 50 pre-primary children and 190 primary children. Their parents are humble people who work hard on their gardens to grow their own vegetables and fruits.

When Berta shared this opportunity to give back, our young people brainstormed ideas about how they could best help these children. Izzie Perez imagined them climbing up the muddy mountain dirt roads. She had the great idea of collecting backpacks and filling them with school supplies. Everyone agreed this was a great project.  They jumped into action – starting by creating an action plan and each took on tasks.

Our graphic artist Leaslie Perez created a flyer. All the youth wrote to their elected officials asking for contributions.  Maria relayed with Working Cities’ Lola Herrera to pick up backpacks full of supplies from Boys & Girls Club. They reached out to consignment stores. Everyone was inspired by the students and wanted to do whatever we could for them!

Mac Cullen invited his school mates to donate their slightly used backpacks. To being, he met with his school officials to request their support. He then sent out emails and set up a robocall to all 900 students.

Beth Cullen, Mac’s mother was inspired to reach out to her friends and extensive network. She used social media to invite everyone to pitch in – Stone Soup style.

On Saturdays Mac and Beth set up a make-shift collections spot at the Aquidneck Community Table’s Grower’s Market — out of the trunk of their car. They made it easy for people to drop off their donations.  Thanks to their efforts and dedication, the project received 75 backpacks full of educational supplies.

The Institute organized a Community Service Packing Party in conjunction with its Holiday Party. Joined by our Tech Team from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, our staff and the youth everyone worked together to sort through the donations. Lya wrapped the Institute’s donation of a Mac BookPro in festive paper. Evelin, who aspires to be a pastry chef, baked holiday cookies for the party!

I enjoyed the opportunity to be part of a deeply meaningful and impactful service project, directly improving the lives of Guatemalan children.  I organized a successful backpack collection drive within my Bishop Hendricken High School community, and, with the help of my mother, collected many dozens of backpacks. Helping improve and touch the lives of many students in Guatemala was a great way to ignite the spirit of the holiday season.

Mac Cullen

It was an honor to take part in Stone Soup Leadership Institute community service project to bring backpacks, clothing, and school supplies to students in La Puerta, Guatemala. Mac and I fondly call the initiative “Operation Backpack.”  The outpouring of kindheartedness and generosity from our neighbors, friends, classmates, and community organizations is truly uplifting.

Beth Cullen

I am very grateful for the Stone Soup Leadership Institute and its service project to help children of Guatemala. By contributing to the education of the children in this country makes me think that solidarity makes the world a better place. Thanks to this project,  the Newport community is connected to the people of Guatemala. Part of our future in Newport will be built with new generations of Guatemala children, so this service project has a profound meaning to our community.

Lola Herrera, Working Cities

The  community service project was great for me because by helping my community I get to make a positive impact on my life. I always receive from others and it feels so nice to be able to give back to others. Also, I really like this project because we are helping people from Guatemala which is my native home.  And I know they really need it because I lived there and I am aware of the situation and how hard it is for children to go to school.

Evelin Perez

I hope the children in Guatemala will appreciate the gifts we are sending from America. Our group had a little celebration for organizing a list of things to send to Guatemala. I feel grateful!

Izzy Perez

The celebration of the donations was very successful. I was very happy that we were able to get that many backpacks donated. It was great to use my graphic skills to help others. The tech team and the girls had a good time with Evelin’s desserts. I think this donation is going to make the children have a big smile and I’m happy to be a part of it.

Leaslie Perez

My experience with the community project was a great way spread positivity and kindness. I’m excited for the children’s reactions. I was excited to start packing the backpacks. We all got together to contribute and make this happen for the kids in need. I’m proud of everyone for being very hands on and participating to make someone else happy. This has not only been a great way to bond as a group but it will also bring their school community together.

Lya Perez

I’m so happy and grateful that we got to help so many kids in Guatemala. No matter how hard you think your life is, there’s someone that’s facing things that sometimes are tougher than yours. Giving to people without expecting anything back, that’s what life is all about.

Maria Rodriguez

Many Thanks to Our Donors

  • Bishop Hendricken High School
  • Boys & Girls Club – Newport County
  • Stone Soup Leadership Institute
  • U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Special Thanks

  • Beth Cullen
  • Berta Paleaz Clients & Friends
  • Lola Herrera
  • Aquidneck Community Table’s Growers Market


Community service is an essential component of the Institute’s year-long program.  Each year we work with our young people to develop critical thinking skills and decide what service projects they want to support or create.  By looking for opportunities to give back — they develop a life-long lesson of service.  We find that it’s a great teaching tool – for them to learn to assess their communities and their world, discover what organizations are already doing great work – and which organizations are welcoming to our multicultural youth. Sometimes we join with other organizations, sometimes the youth create their own project. It’s a discovery process.

2018: Warm Clothing Drive for Border Wall refugees from Guatemala.

2017: Food & Warm Clothing Drive for Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rican refugees who moved to Holyoke, MA.

2018: Dr. King Day of Service: youth joined with Hungry Fridays to make 300 sandwiches.