Saturday, March 23 was graduation day for eight local men.
It marked the end to their “Rhode Trip” experience — six years of character-building excursions where they learned how hike through the wilderness, survive on their own, appreciate the natural beauty around them, love God, and love others.
That’s what Rhode Trip is all about, says one of its founders, Lyle Richardson. The Barrington resident and his lifelong friend Todd Blount established Rhode Trip seven years ago. They were looking for a way to mentor young men, bring them closer to nature and God, and share lessons they had been fortunate to learn when they were younger.
At first, Mr. Richardson and Mr. Blount thought of building a camp for young people, but later settled on something different, something less tangible but still very real. Mr. Richardson said Rhode Trip, in its first year, was slightly militaristic and a bit flawed. But over the years, the founders and other adult mentors involved in the program have learned what has worked and fine-tuned the experience.
“Those were the guinea pigs,” Mr. Richardson said with a smile.
Late last month, Rhode Trip graduated its second class. The eight men included five Barrington High School seniors, one BHS junior, one East Providence High School senior and one home-schooled student. The graduates gathered at Cedar Hall at Barrington Baptist Church and shared with friends and family their experiences from the last leg of Rhode Trip — a week-long trip to Haiti to help people there.
“We bonded so well, this group,” said Mr. Richardson. “This was best trip since they started.”
It wasn’t always so good. Mr. Richardson can still recall the first trip of Rhode Trip. He said the group of young men was returning from a hiking adventure in northern New England and stopped for a bite to eat at a Taco Bell restaurant. The group leaders were tired, sleep-deprived, and longing to return to their everyday lives. As the boys were preparing to leave the restaurant, one spilled his drink on the floor. The others — despite being drilled on helping their fellow man — paid no attention to the mess, leaving the boy to clean up his drink on his own.
The group leaders snapped.
They hollered at the boys, told them they had missed the point of the experience. It was a frustrating end to the first leg of Rhode Trip, but over the years the program has been blessed with numerous successes. The most recent came during the Haiti trip where the young men from across the East Bay learned to appreciate what they have been given.
“You don’t know the poor until you smell the poor,” Mr. Richardson said. “You can smell it. It is real.”
The local young men quickly recognize the stark contrast Haiti offers from their hometowns — there are no trees, no bushes, trash is strewn everywhere, the air is filled with a thick smog caused by the burning piles of rubbish. Most people have very little, but hold no resentment toward the missionaries, said Mr. Richardson. In fact, the children at the village in Chambron where Rhode Trip stayed quickly embraced the young men.
“They are so happy just to spend time with them and love them,” Mr. Richardson said. “They know we’re putting ourselves in danger being there… They just want to be loved.”
Those on Rhode Trip fill whatever needs there are at the village. They dig trenches, set up tents, bring food to people and play with the children. Photos captured the enjoyment — Barrington’s Ted Jones carrying a small Haitian child, JR Martin covered with boys and girls, smiling from ear to ear.
Mr. Richardson said the trip left a deep impression on the local young men, one that he hopes will last. But he also understands that feelings will fade over time, and the pressures that disappeared while in Haiti returned once the young men stepped back on local soil — pressures to drink and smoke and behave contrary to the lessons found in the Bible.
“I think life is just as hard for kids as it ever was,” Mr. Richardson said. “Three clicks and they can be looking at naked girls. There’s so much sex in the movies. Peer pressure is everywhere.”
Mr. Richardson said he hopes the men in Rhode Trip will continue going to church each week; as of late March the group was still going to weekly service at Anchor of Hope Church in East Providence every Tuesday night. Mr. Richardson one of the goals of Rhode Trip is to build leaders and have those men continue in their faith during and after college.
“Eighty eight percent of kids who went to church while growing up stop going in college,” Mr. Richardson said. “The plan is to keep them in church, in Christ. We want to create leaders in New England through the church.”
Love fills week-long trip to impoverished nation
Look past the group of young men wearing t-shirts and work pants in the group photograph and glance upon the landscape in the background. It is barren. There are no trees. There are no bushes. There is very little grass.
Welcome to Haiti.
The week-long trip to Haiti marks the end of Rhode Trip, of six years of challenges, trips, lessons and mentoring. Rhode Trip begins in the summer after seventh grade.
• Year 1: A four-day trip in New Hampshire.
• Year 2: One week on Mt. Katadin in Maine.
• Year 3: Five-day canoe paddle in the Adirondacks.
• Year 4: Bivouac trip in Jackman, Maine on 7,000 acres in Moose River outpost. Includes a 24-hour solo excursion by each young man.
• Year 5: Trip to a 600-acre spread in Colorado that includes horseback riding, mine exploring and skeet shooting.
• Year 6: A weeklong trip to Haiti. Called the “graduation trip.”
Free to join
There is no cost to join Rhode Trip, and there need not be any religious affiliation. Mr. Richardson said some of the boys are practicing Christians, while others have been atheists or agnostics. Individuals must raise money for the Colorado and Haiti trips to off-set flight expenses. Other than that, Rhode Trip is fueled entirely by donations.