Finding Joy in the Journey

This might sound crazy, but I’ve had a long journey. I was born in a large, dimly lit place with millions of brothers and sisters. Weekdays were crowded to say the least, and I was constantly being manhandled by gentle giants with dull matching outfits. They looked nothing like me though, as I was glowing in a bright shade of hot pink trimmed with jet black detailing. The gentle giants admired my colorful character and unique design, but that didn’t seem to be enough to keep me around. They mumbled to me, “just wait until you see what’s waiting for you. Your purpose is greater than you can imagine.” At the time, those words left me confused. My purpose, as I knew it, was solely to exist among my brothers and sisters. How could I possibly be capable of so much more? I’m only a backpack.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Tucked away in the heart of Little Havana, Shenandoah Elementary embodies the culture of Miami blended with the spirit of innovative education. The original school was erected in 1926, and it was later renovated in 1975 to provide a better learning environment for students and educators alike. The student population consists of approximately 1000, of which 96% are Hispanic, 2% are white, 1% are Black, and 1% are Asian.

Although Shenandoah Elementary has flourished with its diverse community, powerful values and tireless work ethic, the Title I School still faces its fair share of challenges. The District disburses Title I funding to schools based on the number of low-income children and poverty stricken areas, allowing the school to spend the funds on approved early childhood and exceptional student educational programs. There was still a yearning need for an important element in the educational mix: supplies. Once micro-philanthropist, Caty Villavicencio, caught wind of Shenandoah’s struggles, she decided to dedicate this year’s backpack and school supply drive to the elementary school and its thriving community. She agreed to collect supplies and raise funds to pull together 100 backpacks stuffed with fresh, new school supplies for the Shenandoah kiddos.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Caty, along with her supportive philanthropic team, met up with Principal Gloria Garcia a week before the first day of class to gift the family of backpacks to Shenandoah Elementary. The gates to the face of the school opened slowly, and Caty’s SUV pulled up into the welcoming driveway. Immediately, Principal Garcia was ready to greet Caty and her donations with bright eyes and a giant smile. She knew how much this project meant to her staff and even more so, to her beloved students. As they all transferred the backpacks to their temporary home in the main office, everyone couldn’t help but picture the little recipients faces when they would finally see their very own backpack. To accept these backpacks as a donation would mean to truly know generosity, humility and happiness.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Thanks to your charitable efforts, kind attitudes and open hearts, 100 children have had the opportunity to experience school in a different light. They were able to arrive prepared and maybe for the first time, excited about coming to class. These new backpacks and school supplies will be the finest tools to allow the Shenandoah kids to do more than just learn, but learn with a smile.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

After many months of adventurous travels, I’ve finally landed in a strange, but comforting room. It has four freshly painted white walls, a steady flow of crisp, cool air, and some delightful sounds. Unfamiliar gentle giants surround me as they grab my brothers and sisters from the table we lie on. Where are they taking them? As this question begins to cloud my thoughts, I’m briskly picked up by a gentle giant and we head in the direction of my siblings. Reunited at last! The sounds become louder and the lights become brighter and… “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” These words flooded my soul as I was embraced by a teeny tiny giant with a smile larger than life. She exclaimed, “I’ve waited so long for you; this is the best!” In that moment I realized what I was told so long ago actually meant. I did have a purpose, and it meant more than being just a backpack, but a symbol of happiness – even to the tiniest of giants. My journey was now complete.


Photo courtesy of Cristina Alfonso

Words from Amanda Camejo

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