Maryland Key Club members reach out to Guatemalan refugees
Story by Ariana Gainer
The year 1999 opened a new chapter in the history of the Meade High School Key Club in Ft. Meade, Maryland. Amber Coffman, a Key Club member at the time, developed a heart for serving the many Guatemalan families that reside in the state. Her mother, Bobbi, became the club’s advisor in 2000, and she and Amber invited Key Club members to join their efforts to build lasting relationships with families from another culture. Not only did the members accept the offer, but they adopted the outreach as their signature project.
“Many of these families are in Maryland because there is work on chicken farms,” Bobbi says of the state’s 34,000-plus Guatemalan residents. “Word about the job opportunities here spread in Guatemala, so many people have moved here. Sadly, the majority of them live in condemned trailer parks without basic necessities because they have nowhere else to go.”
Refusing to sit by while members of their community lived in poor conditions, the Key Club members took action. For 17 years, they have been collecting groceries, clothes, refreshments, gifts, toiletries, blankets and toys to donate to Guatemalan families in Marydel, Maryland. The town, a two- to three-hour trek away by car, showed a Guatemalan population of 42.55% in the 2010 U. S. Census—the highest of any community in the country.
The club has remained passionate about the project thanks to Meade High School’s sizeable Hispanic population. Students from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been eager to help, and because they are bilingual, they are vital to the project’s success, helping to build trust between Key Club members and Guatemalan families.
To execute the project year after year, the Key Club partners with a number of local organizations and state agencies, including Happy Helpers for the Homeless, Anne Arundel County and stores that donate children’s clothing.
Rain or shine, Key Club members make the trip to Marydel several times a year to donate their time and resources. The last trip of 2016 was scheduled for December 17, when a severe ice storm hit. But club members still showed up.
“The police, the schools—everyone was telling us to stay home,” Bobbi says. “But we wouldn’t miss an opportunity to help these families for the world.”