Principal Unites School Community for Education in Nicaragua.
Jeanine Lupisella ’87/MS ’92 was at a point in her life when she was in a hurry to help. As a middle school principal in the Honeoye Falls-Lima district south of Rochester, N.Y., she had planned to travel to a developing country to help promote literacy — after retirement. Then, in 2011, she found herself going to a lot of funerals, sometimes for people of her generation.
“I thought, I can’t wait until after I retire to start volunteering and fulfilling my dreams,” she says. “I can’t wait to travel to these other countries to help people.”
She reached out to Kellan Morgan ’06, the director of Enlace Project, a nonprofit organization that helps residents with economic and other improvement in El Sauce, a town in the mountain regions of Nicaragua. Morgan had become involved with the Central American country in 2006 when he went there as part of a Geneseo project, and later served as the college’s resident director for study abroad in El Sauce. Encouraged by Morgan, Lupisella and her husband, Rob, who is a primary school principal in the Avon district, and their young children, Caroline and Elise, signed on as volunteers with El Sauce Project. In 2011, they helped build a much-needed elementary school.
Lupisella was at the opening of that school — and returned with her own
dream — to provide opportunities for Nicaragua residents and instill a sense of philanthropy in kids from her area.
To do so, the Lupisellas formed a nonprofit, Linking Hands for Learning. So far, they have built nine one-room schools.
They have done so with adults and school-aged volunteers — including Geneseo alumni — from three school districts, whose bottle drives and other projects help make construction possible. They travel at their own expense to build the schools alongside residents and live with local families.
That inherent desire to give back is a Geneseo value: Geneseo has been recognized on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll every year since its inception in 2006. There is also a service-learning study abroad and a humanities course taught in El Sauce through Geneseo.
“From the beginning, Jeanine has listened well to what the local community leaders have said about their education system,” Morgan says. “She did not come to Nicaragua with her ideas about what needed to be done, and how we needed to do it. I think that openness has allowed for her project to be so successful.”
The lessons that Lupisella has learned in El Sauce are lessons she has shared with the teachers and students in her school in Honeoye Falls and elsewhere. “A trip like this, helps students open up their mind to others, to new thinking, to change,” says Lupisella, “and so much more.”
Two-time volunteer Jessica Apthorpe is now a sophomore at Monroe Community College who plans to transfer Geneseo. Living with the bare necessities was instructive, she says. “It was definitely a learning experience, and I hope to go back,” she says. “When I came back here I looked on my life differently and I think I was almost annoying to my friends. I didn’t want to waste anything.” Two second-grade teachers in Lupisella’s school — Melinda Fleming ’02 and Lisa Leonard ’05 (who also volunteered in Nicaragua) — have brought the El Sauce mission into an economics unit. Their students make and sell products, and the profits help El Sauce students. As the children learn to identify and count money, they learn about another culture.
“The community members in Nicaragua are astounded that kids and strangers would do things like this for them,” Lupisella says.
Just as she has been changed by the experience, so have the people of El Sauce. When she first began volunteering to build schools, Jeanine’s job was basically that of a grunt. She knew little about construction, so she carried supplies and followed orders. The women of El Sauce stayed back and watched as Lupisella did what locals thought was men’s work. But, over time, the women have joined hands with Lupisella.
“The barriers we started with were completely broken down,” Lupisella says.