Miami-Dade County

These teens have never been on a plane. This will be the trip of a lifetime

From left: Take Stock in Children Miami Executive Director Joanne Messing, Christopher Bellina, Stephen Kinchen, Abigail Ruiz, Terrneisha Flourny, Take Stock in Children Miami Chief Service Officer Raul Hernandez. The students are heading to Spain next week.
From left: Take Stock in Children Miami Executive Director Joanne Messing, Christopher Bellina, Stephen Kinchen, Abigail Ruiz, Terrneisha Flourny, Take Stock in Children Miami Chief Service Officer Raul Hernandez. The students are heading to Spain next week. sgross@miamiherald.com

Miami Senior High sophomore Christopher Bellina has never been on a plane. In fact, he’s never left Florida.

But next week, he will be Madrid-bound with for the trip of a lifetime with nine other teens.

“I’m excited about the sights, the culture,” said Bellina, who is 15. “I’ve never seen anything other than Miami culture, which is where I’ve lived my entire life.”

Bellina, who was born and raised in Little Havana, is one of 10 teens selected to travel abroad on a 10-day excursion sponsored by the city of Miami and a nonprofit organization called Take Stock in Children.

The nonprofit aims to break the cycle of poverty with mentoring and scholarships for at-risk Miami students, but has never sponsored a trip abroad before this summer.

“We even helped them get their passports and everything,” said program organizer Vanessa Lopez. “Logistically, it was a little bit challenging, but we did it.”

The teens depart June 19, where they will meet similar Spanish students in Madrid and complete Camino de Santiago, or “Way of St. James.” The students will walk about 47 miles in seven days to retrace the steps of medieval pilgrims en route to the Cathedral of St. James in Galicia, Spain. The trip will be used in a promotional video by the International Studies Foundation, a Spanish-based nonprofit.

While the trip might be the first of its kind for Take Stock in Children, it’s not the first partnership with Miami. Earlier this year, city employees were paid up to two hours during their workweek to mentor at-risk Miami students.

“It opens the kids’ eyes to an array of work that you can do within a municipality,” Executive Director Joanne Messing said. “When they approached us about this trip, we came up with a plan.”

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said Tuesday that the trip also serves as an opportunity to further Miami’s “sister city agreement” with Madrid.

“We feel that this is an important step in the relationship between Miami and Madrid,” Regalado said. “This is a unique opportunity for these children.”

Students heading to Spain said they’re excited about the trip. They were chosen from Miami Northwestern Senior High, Miami Jackson Senior High, New World School of the Arts and Miami Senior High.

“Not many students get to do this,” said 16-year-old Jackson student Stephen Kinchen, who smiled at his mother, LaToya, 38. “I’m grateful for this.”

Students traveling to Spain

  • Kevin Alcantara – Miami Jackson Senior High
  • Terrenisha Flourny – Miami Northwestern Senior High
  • Abigail Ruiz – Miami Senior High
  • Christopher Bellina – Miami Senior High
  • Joel Diaz – Miami Northwester Senior High
  • Stephen Kinchen – Miami Jackson Senior High
  • Jose Galaviz – Miami Senior High
  • Nathaly Sevilla – Miami Senior High
  • Paola Matano – Miami Jackson Senior High
  • Wooldjina Present – New World School of the Arts
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