West Virginia’s Greenbank Elementary Comes to DC & St. Mary’s

Dear St. Mary’s Parishioners,

[It is my pleasure to share Greenbank Elementary’s story with the St. Mary’s community.] Keep in mind,  that I come “late to the party” since the Greenbank-St. Mary’s partnership has been going on for more than 35 years.

In the 1970s, two of our fourth-grade teachers at Greenbank Elementary (located in Green Bank, West Virginia) decided they wanted to take the fourth graders to Washington, D.C., for a field trip.

At that time, one of the teachers had lived in and around D.C. previously and was somewhat familiar with the area.  She and the other teacher planned an overnight trip to D.C.

We live in a remote, rural area of West Virginia.  With the exception of the Green Bank Observatory, formally known as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, our parents are primarily of the working class.  We have limited resources and a majority of our students will only venture out into the world as far as we take them as a school.  We also have an 8th grade trip to VA Beach; might be the one and only time some students get to the beach.

I’m not meaning to make our families sound ignorant nor am I suggesting they don’t do things with their kids.  Just most families live paycheck to paycheck and a vacation of the caliber of D.C. and VA Beach is out of range for some, not all.

Over the next few years, these two teachers developed the trip into the four-day trip we now take.  As it is, the trip will cost us approximately $14,000.  Without the facilities of the church for lodging, we would be unable to raise the additional amounts for hotels.  So it was determined long ago that staying in a church was the best option.  I’m amazed each year how the area supports our efforts to raise this money to make the trip happen.

A short story about one particular trip.  I personally brought a young lady several years ago that was raised by her dad.  She was very tom-boyish, wore boy’s clothes, and only had experienced the world as a girl being in a man’s world.  On the trip, the moms took her under their wings.  On the trip, she experienced what it was to be woken up by a “mom” figure as well as experiencing this interaction with women.  By the end of the week, the “moms” had convinced her to pull her hair up in a ponytail (unheard of until then for her), [treated her to a new clothing outfit], as well as [discussed seeing] the area as we toured with a female point of view.  It was a wonderful experience for her and I saw her blossoming by the end of the week.

Sleeping in [St. Mary’s] church is much more than saving on cost.  It allows us to bond as a group and become a large family by the end of the week.

[We  jam-packed our time in D.C.] to squeeze out as much as we can in the time we have.

To finish, one of the two teachers who began this trip, both are retired at this time, travels with me each year to be a school chaperone.  She and I have a wonderful time showing the students and some parents D.C. as well as laughing at ourselves in the church at night (snoring, day’s events, and pure exhaustion by the end of the week).

Your church is our safe haven in D.C., a place we can just recoup each night for our adventures the next day.  I cannot, cannot express how appreciative we are of the use of your church.  I plan to retire in two years but also plan to help keep the trip going until someone picks up the baton after I leave and continues the trip.

We are beyond getting excited, we being Judy and I, for our trip.  This year I’m privileged to be bringing my son, who went as a fourth grader, and his son on the trip.  The parents still talk about their memories.  God bless each one of you and your church for your hospitality.  We will see you soon.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Nelson

Greenbank Elementary Trip Organizer