Mo-Ranch Director of Outdoor Education Ministries, Patrick Fitzgerald (middle), is pictured with two former ELP participants, Avi Jain (left) and Vibhore Jain (right), in Australia.
One year, as a child back in the ’70s, my parents loaded up the station wagon, hooked up the camper and drove from Ohio to Disney World for a family vacation. The years have made that trip somewhat hazy, but I can still remember the boats and floating through the “It’s a Small World” ride. Between my three siblings and myself, I am sure we subjected our parents to that particular ride at least a dozen times!
I am now a father and travel with my own child; I am reminded often that this really is a small world. For our daughter’s high school graduation present, we told her we would let her pick anywhere in the world for us to go on a vacation together! Much to our surprise and joy, she said she wanted to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia.
Here is where the story gets interesting!
At our first dive briefing in Australia, all the divers met on the deck to get the lowdown on the particular reef that we would be diving. I looked around at the 20 or so other divers whom we had just met and noticed one guy was wearing a St. John’s Mavericks T-shirt. I approached the fella and asked, “What’s the story behind your St. John’s T-shirt?” He said that he had attended school there. I then explained that I run the Environmental Leadership Program at Mo-Ranch, and that I’ve worked with the St. John’s School in Houston for almost 25 years through that program. I then asked him if he ever been to Mo-Ranch with St. John’s School. He smiled and said, in fact, he had. He was a student at St. John’s and had visited Mo-Ranch on a 6th-grade school trip back in 2001. He and I both remember that day like it was yesterday; it was September 11, 2001.
The school was in transit to Mo-Ranch when we were attacked by terrorists on that tragic day. This was back before everyone carried cell phones. When the school arrived, none of the students knew what was happening. Only a handful of teachers had heard anything about the attacks. We pulled the teachers aside, explained what was going on and came up with a game plan for the students. In a nutshell, we decided to continue with the program. For the next four days, these students experienced all that Mo-Ranch offers. To this day, the teachers from that trip say this was the safest, best place to have been when all of our lives were turned upside down.
As Avi and I spoke about that day and his experience at Mo-Ranch, he pointed to another fella putting on his flippers and said, “That’s my brother, Vibhore; he came to Mo-Ranch ELP in 1997 with The Village School!” Both of the brothers said that their trips to Mo-Ranch were one of the most memorable experiences of their middle school years.
I have worked with thousands of students over the years, so there is no way that I can remember each student. What I do remember are the schools and the teachers who come back year after year to give their students a unique opportunity to explore nature, develop leadership skills, grow in friendships and to have fun. We are truly blessed to have the opportunity to touch these students’ lives. I would have never thought that I would meet two former ELP students while scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. As the song goes, “It’s a small, small world.”
-Patrick Fitzgerald, Director of Outdoor Education Ministries