HIGHLAND — Teens and adults from First Presbyterian Church of Highland will travel 1,900 miles from home Saturday for a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

The Rev. Dave Gibbs is leading a youth mission trip to the Dominican Republic from Saturday to June 29. The group of 19 is traveling to the Park School and Care Center in Caraballo. The school, started by Kids Alive International, teaches 120 children through the sixth grade. Kids Alive International is a faith-based organization "dedicated to rescuing orphans and vulnerable children."

"With the many years I've been doing youth ministry and mission trips, what you find is that you get so much more than you give from the experience," Gibbs said.

The group will spend time playing and working with the school's children as well as maintenance work and the construction of a fence around the school. The teens also are looking forward to meeting Angelica Ramirez, a child they sponsored the past year, and bringing clothing to the children of the orphanage.

Gibbs said on a previous mission trip to the Dominican Republic, the teens were "so surprised about how happy the children were," even without amenities such as cellphones and indoor plumbing.

"It just gives you such a great sense of appreciation for what you do have," Gibbs said. "It gives you a whole different perspective on your own life."

There are nine teens and 10 adults going on the trip.

"I have gone on these trips ever since I was in sixth grade and love it every time," Carley Ramirez said.

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The church is focused on "mission work, locally and globally." The group was commissioned Sunday during the worship service "to be the heart, hands and feet of Jesus Christ" during their travels.

Funds raised for the trip came from the annual talent show and auction in early March. The event raised more than $8,000, and the teens also received donations from family and friends.

"I come back a completely different person with each mission trip I go on," Sarah Manning said. "I come back as someone positively impacted."

Gibbs is resigning in July after 15 years as the youth director and 29 years in youth ministry. Since Gibbs started his position at the church, the youth group has traveled on a mission trip each year. Past trips have been to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work with children; West Virginia to build and repair of homes; Rockford, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; and a previous trip to the Dominican Republic.

"I've hung on to see this group of kids I've had since the first grade to see them through graduation and it seemed like a good time to step aside," Gibbs said. "I'll miss it terribly ... youth ministry has always been my passion."

The Dominican Republic and the U.S. State Department are currently investigating the deaths of several Americans who have became ill and died in the country. Gibbs said the group knows of the reports and "are aware of it, but not concerned."

"Where we're going, the mission site is run by natural-born American citizens," Gibbs said. "We've been there twice before and we've never had anyone get sick."

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Porter County General Assignment Reporter

Emily covers Porter County news and features for The Times. A transplant from NW Ohio to NWI, Emily loves talking to people and hearing their stories. She graduated from the University of Toledo in 2018 and believes all dogs are good dogs.