a special feature by GPL Executive Assistant Sarina Peddy

In tragedy, often times we find a life purpose.

Back in 2010 I was a sophomore in college in sunny Boca Raton, FL, living with two of my best friends enjoying all the newfound freedom that defines college life.  A terrible tragedy soon transformed my life and out of which others now benefit from.

During our winter break from school, the university required us to spend ten days of community service with underprivileged or some philanthropic involvement. As I chose to spend my ten days on the shores of South Florida cleaning up garbage from beaches in hopes of preserving the natural habitat of sea turtles, my roommate Stephanie chose to travel to Haiti along side the non-profit group, Food For The Poor.

Within two days of being in Haiti, a huge earthquake hit the island. This natural disaster earthquake demolished most of the country, including the hotel that Stephanie and 12 other students and teachers were staying in. With the entire country in shambles, my friends at college and I received word that six of the students were accounted for at the US embassy, where as the other four students and two teachers were still “missing”.  After almost 30 long days of uncertainty and praying, we were told that Stephanie was one of six who lost her life, while being inside of her demolished hotel.  Our grief paralyzed us all.

As a 20-year-old student, I felt beyond lost and uncertain of why or how this tragedy could happen to such a vibrant and determined young girl, who had so many aspirations in life to help others. Whether our university required us to seek and perform service as mentioned before, I believe it never mattered, as this was the very fabric of Stephanie’s character.

It was only months later, as all of Stephanie’s family and friends were grieving this horrific loss, that they chose to make an example of the mission Stephanie had set off to accomplish, helping one child at a time. That spring, her family announced they had started their very own non-profit organization in Stephanie’s honor called Stephanie’s Mission. With this non-profit, their goal was to help continue what Stephanie had begun. They started having fundraisers and began to work in conjunction with Food for the Poor, the organization that Stephanie first associated herself with. In June of that year, a group of supporters of friends, family and volunteers traveled to Jamaica on missionary trips.  There, a school was built in a rural area of the country for the Jamaican children.  All was done in honor of Stephanie and they dubbed the efforts by calling it “ Stephanie’s Place” in her honor.

Now in it’s 7th year, this organization gets together and returns to Jamaica to fulfill hopes, dreams, and build an education center for children who are less fortunate.

My personal grieving has never left my heart, as I think of Stephanie and her heart. I was determined this year to make the trip to Jamaica as a salute to my friend and to show the depth of my commitment to her dreams. Whether I was emotionally ready or capable wasn’t important, but I was committed to do something.

Putting all my personal pain aside, I planned my trip with the foundation. Family and friends graciously supported me with donations through a gofundme fundraiser. Although the trip was just a short five days with 25 other volunteers, we were able to build a school in three days; and those three days certainly transformed my outlook on everything. We even had an opportunity to visit a girl’s orphanage, which opened my eyes to a whole other way of life — seeing these young children who had nothing, but still had hope for a better life, with beautiful warm smiles on their faces.

While we were building this school, the children and families of the community came with gracious hearts everyday to show their support for the gift and the dream we were accomplishing for them. Those moments spent with the children were something I will never forget. One particular young girl named Calisi took especially to me. She was awed by the fact that people were willing to help them. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up, she answered, “I want to be like you because helping people who need it, is the right thing to do.” When she told me this, I understood more clearly why Stephanie was so devoted and moved by these children. I am so very thankful that I was able to experience this trip  and see first hand the  love and determination that Stephanie’s family has for this project. Every year they use these missions as a healing process, as well as carrying on the dream that Stephanie had hoped to fulfill.

My personal aspiration…… to continue to make these trips a yearly experience so that I help to keep this important dream alive in honor of a friend whose love and devotion continues to live within others.

For more information about Steph’s Mission, go to www.stephaniesmission.org, where donations for further projects can be made.

Thank you for listening to my story, and as Stephanie always says, “Failure is not an option!” She is so proud!


*a special feature by Sarina Peddy, executive assistant for Grandparentslink.com
Sarina lives in Sag Harbor, NY and is a child educator, currently working towards her master’s degree.
Sarina’s motto is: Remember that children are our future, help them grow!