Students near Tela, Honduras
display notebooks they received in a shipment from Dos Rios Elementary in Evans. (Photo courtesy Eva Serrano.)
voice caught. She managed to fight off tears as she continued, but it was touch and go for a second.
“I was given the opportunity
to give back to kids over there,” she said at Dos Rios Elementary School in Evans last week. “It’s
priceless. A lot of kids can’t go to school because of clothing, and that’s so unfair because every child should
have an opportunity of education, so it’s personal to me.”
Serrano, 41, is a Spanish teacher at Dos Rios.
She came to northern Colorado
— Pierce, to be exact — from her native Honduras when she was 15, then came to Greeley and earned bachelor’s
and master’s degrees in education from the University of Northern Colorado. She has been teaching in Greeley-Evans School
District 6 for 18 years and at Dos Rios for 10.
she has been at the forefront of Dos Rios’ sister school relationships with four isolated schools in Honduras, in the
vast Lancetilla Botanical Garden area adjacent to the seaside resort town of Tela. That’s near the Caribbean coast on
the north side of the Central American nation. In that area, electrical power in homes isn’t rare; it’s non-existent.
Many who live there have some sort of family employment connection to the botanical garden and research center, but the pay
Teaching materials and student supplies are scant. It’s difficult to learn when it’s difficult to find
anything to write with … or on.
Yet to attend the schools, students must wear uniforms, which means someone must purchase them. They are nothing fancy, but in many cases, they are unaffordable.
Rather than admit the simple uniform is beyond their means, many families keep their kids away.
In 2014, Serrano and her Dos Rios
teaching partner, Lynn Perrich, traveled to the Tela area, visited several schools and returned to northern Colorado determined
do something to aid the schools and the kids who attend them. Or would attend them, if they could.
“We decided to get donated
school supplies,” Serrano said.
“We thought we could do that as a staff,” said Perrich, now retired from the district
and working as a supervisor in the UNC school of teacher education. “We could use some leftover materials, things that
were no longer relevant in our teaching but could be useful for them. Books, picture books, pens, markers, crayons, folders,
notebooks, binders … all of the above.”
Eva Serrano talks to a
third-grade class Friday about her time in Honduras and how she hopes to help Dos Rios’ sister school in the future.
This also became a personalized learning exercise for the Dos Rios students who compared their experience to
that of the kids in Central America. Dos Rios students and their parents also made contributions.
“Eva explained it to the
kids, what we could do to help others and showed the picture of area,” Perrich said. “The kids were excited and
it transferred to the teachers on our staff. The students helped with rounding up the material.”
Serrano stored the contributed
materials until they could fill a pallet-sized box, which could weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Then she packed the box and
shipped it, through Miami and at the cost of about $325 per box.
The Dos Rios kids, many of whom qualify for the free lunch program, raised
the shipping costs, both through depositing loose change into boxes — the coins add up — and being a part of fundraisers,
including at Buffalo Wild Wings.
“We call it ‘Pennies for Honduras,'” said Serrano. “We turn those pennies
into dollars to ship the boxes.”
The bank tellers see her coming and have the coin-counting machine ready.
“Then Eva comes back and
tells the kids how much there was,” Perrich said.
And how much more they need.
Principal Matt Thompson,
former Dos Rios teacher Lynn Perrich and Spanish teacher Eva Serrano stand in front of a display giving details of the Honduras
sister school projects. (Terry Frei)
“Many at Dos Rios don’t have a lot,” said principal Matt Thompson. “But
they give all they can.”
About 15 boxes have gone to the Tela-area schools and the kids at Dos Rios — who raised nearly
$5,000 for the shipping — have been able to smile over seeing pictures of the kids in Honduras triumphantly holding
up spiral notebooks and other donated supplies.
They have learned about their sister schools and continued the project for four years, as
many students at the K-through-5 Dos Rios have moved on to Brentwood Middle School — and in many cases, stayed involved.
expanded beyond school supplies, soon including such things as shoes, clothing, soccer balls and other sports equipment.
Perrich, plus Thompson and teachers Lindsey Mieras and Christina Condon, traveled to the Tela area in 2017 to visit the schools,
and another trip is scheduled for next spring. To date, the Dos Rios personnel have paid their own way on the trips.
kicked up a notch when Rotary clubs — primarily the Greeley Centennial club, but also the Greeley Downtown club and
the Craig club in northwest Colorado — became involved. Determined to network and represent the school in the community,
Thompson joined the Greeley Centennial Rotary and shared details of the project. He’s a member of the Rotary World Community
Service Committee, which includes members of the Greeley Centennial, Greeley Downtown, Greeley Red Eye and Greeley After-Hours
Local workers install
a roof on a classroom building with supplies purchased through a grant spearheaded by the Greeley Centennial Rotary. (Photo
courtesy Eva Serrrano.)
Soon, Rotary was funding additional projects at the Dos Rios sister schools through funds raised
at the local level and, through grants, matched at the Rotary district level. Roofs on two of the four schools were in horrible
condition and were replaced. Furniture, solar panels and ceiling fans were added and a second room was added on a middle-school
building. Parents, enthusiastic to receive the aid, jumped in to contribute labor to the projects. One goal is to bring internet
to the schools, a necessity in today’s educational environment, but that’s believed to be at least a year off.
Another proposed Rotary and SSKIDS (Simple Suppers for Kids in Desperate Situations) project for the schools is to build a
vocational center, where — among other things — parents and kids could make their own uniforms.
“A classroom was built
last year with the Rotary money to house middle schoolers,” Thompson said. “Before that, they were being taught
out in the play area.”
Plus, Rotary contributions helped fund the purchase of school uniforms.
Thompson said he considers the linkage with the
Honduras schools and the projects to be aligned with the International Baccalaureate school philosophy, which involves action,
service and peace, both locally and beyond.
Eva Serrano stands Friday
in front of a projected photo from one of her trips to Honduras. That year she helped bring students uniforms for class. (Joshua
Serrano’s father, Justo Oliva, lives off the Honduran coast, on the island of Roatan, and periodically
journeys to Tela to monitor the projects.
“He’s the checks and balances,” Thompson said. “To hire the workers,
to go to the bank, to check on the work, making sure that the money is going to the right place for everything. He doesn’t
draw a salary. He does it because it’s what he wants to do.”