SALINA, Kan., March 18, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Ian Niebla, a graduate of St. John's Military School, has taken the lessons learned as a cadet about the importance of community service and is putting them into practice to improve the lives of others. In 2015, Niebla made two trips to Antigua, Guatemala to volunteer with Hug It Forward, a grass-roots organization that facilitates education and awareness by empowering communities to build "bottle schools." Hug It Forward's unique service enables volunteers to assemble structures using plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic trash that become fully functional schools for students in need. Hug It Forward works to bring communities together to build sustainable educational infrastructures that not only improve the environment, but that help to create institutions of learning for children in underprivileged areas.
Niebla spent his senior year of high school enrolled as a cadet at St. John's Military School in Salina, Kansas. Even after graduating in 2010, he never forgot the lessons of community service and the importance of civic responsibility that he learned during his year at St. John's Military School.
"As part of the JROTC [Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps] program at St. John's, we were taught to respect the communities where we live, as well as other communities around the world," said Niebla.
Often reflecting back on this lesson, in 2015 Niebla decided to spend a week building schools in Antigua with Hug It Forward.
"It was my first time in Central America," said Niebla. "I went with my father. After we returned home we decided to start our own fundraising campaign in order to keep giving back to the organization. The need for schools in Central America is so great, we wanted to keep making progress."
Niebla and his father worked to collect financial contributions, which were donated to Hug it Forward. Through their efforts Ian and his family were able to fully fund the development of an entire bottle school in Guatemala.
When asked what helped to inspire his commitment to community service, Niebla pointed to the year he spent at St. John's Military School. Like many alumni of St. John's Military School, known as "Old Boys," Niebla not only frequently reflects back on the lessons learned during his time as a cadet, but he has kept in touch with the school's faculty and staff since graduating in 2010.
"We are extremely proud of the work that Ian is doing in Central America," said Maj. George Stelljes, Commandant of Cadets at St. John's Military School. "We stress to our cadets during their time with us, that one person really can make a difference, and Ian is a clear example of this principle. He and his family are raising money, building schools, and truly making a difference. It's phenomenal."
Hug It Forward was founded on the principles set forth by The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to an education." With a keen understanding of the negative impact that inorganic trash makes in our communities annually, Hug It Forward looks to bridge the need for sustainable practices for non-biodegradable materials with the need for educational support systems around the world. According to Hug It Forward, their bottle school program also empowers people to learn transferable skills, foster community leadership, and build confidence and resilience. Since October 2009, Hug It Forward has completed 70 successful bottle school projects, at an average cost of $6,500 per classroom.
"In April I'll be traveling back to Guatemala to watch the inauguration of the school that was built using the donations my family and I raised," said Niebla. He has already planned another return trip to Antigua in May to continue supporting the mission of Hug It Forward to build 10,000 bottle schools in areas of need. Niebla is especially looking forward to being reunited with the Hug It Forward community of volunteers upon his return to Guatemala.
"My time at St. John's also taught me that the relationships you build with others are invaluable, and that time you spend with friends is priceless," said Niebla.
For more information about Hug It Forward, visit www.hugitforward.org.
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SOURCE St. John's Military School