I make my way down to the first floor of Wilson Commons with junior Vanessa Cedarbaum. We approach a table where freshman Ellen Kim and junior Caroline Cheung sit, selling cupcakes to raise funds for their next service trip.
All three girls – along with 16 other UR students – spent their spring break in the village of Pánchame, Honduras, building a middle school for children who currently only have access to elementary education. They are members of UR’s Students Helping Honduras (SHH), one of the many college and high school chapters of the national non-profit organization founded by then college student Shin Fuliyama in 2007.
Today, these members have agreed to share their experiences in SHH, a new club that’s gained much attention for its unique mission and activities.
After participating in her high school’s chapter of SHH, Cedarbaum founded UR’s program – gaining SA recognition last February – with the help of fellow junior Maria Salas. An international student from Mexico, Salas was also interested in helping the local Hispanic community.
“Our version of SHH is kind of a combination of this normal Students Helping Honduras chapter where we fundraise and we go to Honduras on annual service trips, and also a local component where we do local community service in the Rochester community,” Cedarbaum explains.
SHH members travel to public schools 33 and 12 five times a week to tutor children in bilingual classrooms. These classes combine kids whose first language was English, gaining exposure to Spanish at a young age, with kids whose first language was Spanish and are working on their English skills.
“The classes are taught more in Spanish and their homework is in Spanish but a lot of the kids are primarily English speakers,” Cedarbaum tells me. SHH volunteers primarily help with reading and writing, skills that can be challenging even for kids who grew up as fluent Spanish speakers. While a good portion of SHH members have some background in Spanish, “a lot of members don’t really speak it at all – you don’t need it to tutor with us or go to Honduras,” Cedarbaum assures me.
In addition to tutoring, SHH plans to make their spring break service trips an annual event.Starting last year, members have also traveled to Honduras for a summer leadership summit and additional volunteering. The group fundraises throughout the school year to pay for their SHH trip fees that makes their work possible.
“It’s a $650 fee and $250 of that goes to things for you [food and lodging] and the other $400 is to basically keep SHH running… we can go down and work on a school but we can only do that if there are supplies,” Cedarbaum explains, noting that a large portion of their money goes toward building supplies. “It helps us get there, but then it’s doing good as well.”
To raise money this year, SHH has done a variety of events including a benefit dinner, Pictures with Santa, the “Aca-Olympics”, and of course, cupcake sales. All together, the group has raised approximately $2,200 from fundraisers, receiving an additional $1,500 bonus from the national SHH organization for requiting new members and bus tickets to NYC – where the group caught a direct flight to Honduras – paid for by the University.
Members get a certain amount of their trip fees covered based on their hours. “We keep track of how much time they spend tabling and things like that,” Cedarbaum tells me. “Some of our most active members were getting $400 towards their trip fees.”
While in Honduras, SHH volunteers stay in either SHH lodging or local hotels and spend their days at construction sites building schools from the ground up. “We were working on building classrooms…” Kim explains. “This involved literally moving cinder blocks, making cement with shovels, digging dirt out of certain areas… It’s definitely a lot of work especially in 90 degree weather, but it’s a lot of fun because you get to work with the Honduran workers,”
Cheung, who attended both SHH’s service trip last summer and the recent spring break trip, reflects on her two experiences. “It was the first place that I felt that passion and purpose were put together…. your passion had a purpose and your purpose built more passion,” she recounts. “When I went back two weeks ago, it hit me then that it just gets stronger… I think a lot of times in life you get used to things and they become normal but something like this doesn’t.”
Cheung also noted how impressed she is with the organization’s efficiency. “They have all the logistics down way ahead of time so once [the schools are] up, people are in it and it’s actually being used for its purpose,” she tells me. During the winter trips, the SHH worksites get help from 200-300 volunteers a week, allowing them to build schools very quickly.
Junior member Shanna Cleveland has joined us to weigh in with her views on SHH. “You rarely get to see where your money is going,” she tells me. “We’re sitting here selling cupcakes and it’s hard to visualize – why am I sitting here at this table?” She looks over to where Kim and Cheung sit, gesturing at their table. “We’ve been building a school that cupcakes have funded,” she exclaims. “One cupcake at a time,” she laughs.
“A lot of people just write checks to organizations and they don’t really know where it’s going,” Cleveland continues, explaining how cool it is to be part of club where you get to see where your money is actually going. “It makes us come back and be a lot more excited to sell cupcakes and get all our friends to sell cupcakes and then go back to Honduras again.”
In regards to the club’s future, Cedarbaum hopes for growth. “I just want more people to have that experience and have that opportunity to become so passionate about something,” she tells me. “We already expanded the SHH idea by including tutoring and there are definitely places it can go from there too… any new organization has a lot of freedom, but when you have people that are so excited about it, that’s when things can actually happen.”
For more information on the Students Helping Honduras organization and their story, visit http://ceciskids.org.
Rudd is a member of the class of 2017.

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