Frequently Asked Questions

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Why travel with Pivotal Directions?

Pivotal Directions grew organically out of the desire of parents wanting to invest in their children’s perspective on the broader world experience. Pivotal Directions goes deeper into poverty- behind the scenes of significant poverty than most organizations.

Is Pivotal Directions faith-based.

No. Pivotal Directions desires to be open to diverse backgrounds and perspectives on the human experience. However, Pivotal Directions partners with a number of faith-based organizations of a variety of faiths and missions. For example, Jamaica is heavily Baptist/Pentecostal. Conversations and an invitation to a local cultural service may be present on a trip. These are valuable to better understand the cultural. Rastafarians are also present throughout the trip. We stay in a Catholic convent that offers a peaceful and prayerful setting and optional daily mass. Many of the children’s homes, shelters, schools are Catholic or Christian funded. At no time does Pivotal Directions preach or teach or evangelize a specific faith, however the concept of faith may enter discussions due to the radical conditions of poverty that exist. Pivotal Directions welcomes all. Our world is a melting pot of diversity and we want our volunteers to respect the greater society.

Jamaica Frequently Asked Questions

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Why Jamaica?

So many Americans have the luxury of vacationing around the world such as lounging around the beautiful carefree resorts of the Caribbean. Many of have never, or may never venture too far off the beaten path of luxury while on vacation. Jamaica is home to some of the most pristine resorts, beaches, waterfalls, and golf courses yet the “real” Jamaica is so much more. Outside the resorts exist a hardworking, fun-loving people who have so little, but dream of so much more. Their smiles are as bright as the Jamaican sun, yet their poverty as abundant as the sand.  Orphanages still exist where children spend countless hours untouched by the loving embrace of a caring person. Shanty towns have been built upon city dumps and nutrition and healthcare have hidden themselves behind unjust political and economic structures. The physically and mentally challenged have been brushed under the rug. These are a just a few reasons why Jamaica is a great place to experience the complexities of our world- from wealth and beauty to the poverty and dust.

What activities do we do in Jamaica?

The unique Pivotal experience is that we walk in solidarity with the people. That is to say that at the heart of all that we do is to build friendship with the people and ask how we can assist. We go with plans but occasionally there is a need of the people that we will address. See our “Sample Itinerary” for a basic agenda of what we do.

What is the weather like?

HOT! Temperatures in Jamaica during June/July generally vary between an average high during the day of 88.0 degrees and an average low at night of 76.0 degrees.

Do I need a Passport?

Yes. There is a fast way of obtaining a passport if you are concerned about time. Due to this trip quickly approaching I recommend the expedited process. Visit this link for more info:  http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html

Do I need any special shots for Jamaica?

Short answer: This is up to you and your doctor to determine. Often, Typhoid is the main vaccine needed beyond typical shots students already have. We are not in a Malaria zone but other mosquito-borne illnesses do exist so precautions are encouraged. International Travel Clinics can be another resource but can carry an extra cost. Some insurance plans cover various vaccines. For more information on health while traveling to Jamaica please consult:  https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/jamaica

Is Jamaica safe?

There are inherent risks to all travel, especially when volunteering in impoverished areas outside the Unites States. Those who have been to Jamaica who have practiced common sense have had positive and safe experiences. Service work with the poor is not for everyone. We make every reasonable attempt to limit risk by associating our group with reputable organizations, lodging, transportation and institutions. We stay up to date local news and mostly in tune with our friends who work and live in Kingston. We have access to a phone while traveling. We inform the local US Embassy of our presence. We travel with locals who are respected in the community. We stay at safe, secure facilities. We surround ourselves with the children, teachers and caretakers where we volunteer. This helps  in the area we travel. Most facilities we serve at are behind secured walls and gates with a security guard. We limit our travel at night and to areas that have a history of problems. We have mapped the best medical facilities available (pharmacies and private clinics) in case of their need. We travel smart, limiting the display of expensive technology (cameras) and money. We utilize private transportation and have a hired local guide. As you would in an travel to an unfamiliar city or country, make yourself aware of travel advisories at this US Government website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1147.html

Is the water safe to drink?

Yes

What do we eat?

There is no set menu. We provide a basic American continental breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast, and oatmeal. Lunch is peanut butter and jelly or Nutella. One day will be “Patties.” This is a pastry that contains various fillings and spices baked inside a flaky shell, often tinted golden yellow with an egg yolk mixture or turmeric. It is made like a turnover but is more savory. Dinner is anything from Mac and Cheese and pizza to Jamaican dishes such as Jerk Chicken or Pork, Brown Stew Chicken. Often times Jamaican/Caribbean fare is spicy. Picky eaters are on their own to bring or purchase specific foods at a local grocery store. Basic snacks are provided but volunteers purchase additional favorites (local or American) at a grocery store. Nutrition is vital to fuel long days so Pivotal Directions recognizes Jamaican cuisine may not be to everyone’s tastes. Therefore we provide a variety of selections throughout the week. No ingredient lists are available in Jamaica. Allergies to foods may require bringing or purchasing specific foods on your own dime.

What should I pack?

A packing list of what to bring and what not to bring will be provided at one of the prep meetings.

Are there adult chaperones for the high school trips?

Yes. Trip Leader/Founder and Executive Director, Jeff Wenzler has taken hundreds of students to Jamaica on service trips over the past decade. The staff is comprised of handpicked, background-checked professionals such as teachers and nurses and seasoned college leaders.

Where do we sleep?

The Immaculate Conception Convent is a convent on an exclusive all-girls catholic high school campus in a quiet neighborhood of Kingston. This is a secure campus with security guards. Each room has a private bathroom with shower and a balcony. Multiple volunteers stay in each room of varying sizes. Our air conditioning is called “Jamaican Wind” – a fan! There is a swimming pool to cool off after a hot and dirt-filled day. The convent is an old converted golf club hotel. We eat a number of meals there and pack our lunch- that the volunteers make. All of our group discussions and reflection time will take place inside or on the grounds of the facility.

Who are our guides?

The trip leaders include Jeff Wenzler, the founding director of Pivotal Directions are hand-picked adult leaders and seasoned college student leaders. Our guides have been background checked.

What is included in the cost?

The fee covers all in-country costs: food, snacks, ground transportation, daily leadership processing and direction, activities, service events, group t-shirt, international trip insurance, The Pivotal Life: A Compass for Discovering Purpose, Passion & Perspective” book, tips and donations. Pre-trip preparation meeting or Skype session if out of town and post-trip debrief is also offered. Post-trip letter of reference for resumes and future applications/scholarships, and/or letter of volunteer hours accomplished.

What fees are not included in the trip cost?

Fees not included: airfare, food/snacks in airports, luggage fee depending on airline ($25-$40 some students determine on their own to bring an additional bag of donated supplies such as soccer ball, sandals, medical supplies- gauze, topicals, ibuprofen, etc.,) additional snacks that students tend to purchase at grocery store that is above and beyond what we provide (soda, chips etc.,) memento for craft market. Picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions can pack or purchase needed items. All optional. We recommend $100-$150 spending money.

Can I donate more?

Each student is allowed a second piece of luggage for donated supplies up to 50lbs. The cost is approximately $40. Exact cash needed for any luggage. Past participants from the Milwaukee-area transport a Relearn Bag of gently used school supplies. These bags are pre-packed and provided by Relearn students. Sandals, soccer equipment (deflated balls, pumps, cleats, and jerseys,) over the counter medical supplies (topicals, gauze pads, bandaids, ibruprofen, tooth brushes and tooth paste,) and art supplies are appreciated.

Can I donate financially?

YES! Financial donations help the local community and economy. These donations are put to great use in our daily projects to help us help more. In the past, donations have gone to building projects for the homeless, stroke victims, meals for the hungry elderly shut-ins, freezers and refrigerators, new bed mattresses for those families without, transportation to clinics for those who cannot afford…

Communication Home

NO cell phones or other communication devices are permitted as a part of the Pivotal Directions program. In order to be fully present for the group and those it serves, devices only divide and distract. Items of value also have a greater potential to be stolen and compromise the safety of the group. Any devices found will be confiscated. Some trip staff will have phones if the need to communicate arises. Communication may be limited. We will update social media regularly so that friends and family can follow along.

Photography

Cameras are not permitted for a variety of dignity and safety reasons. Staff will upload a significant amount of photographic memories on Pivotal Directions social media (Instagram and Facebook.) These may be downloaded following the trip.

Securing Passports

Passports are required for international travel. Passports must not expire within 6 months of departure.

Passports will be locked safely by the trip leader.

References

Pivotal Directions is very transparent. At any point you can request multiple references from past volunteers, leaders or parents of volunteers. We are proud of the experiences we provide and our safety record.

Additional Questions

As more questions will arise so please feel free to contact the trip leader, Jeff Wenzler for help.

414-403-2279 or wenzler@pivotaldirections.org

Guatemala Frequently Asked Questions

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Why Guatemala?

Almost two decades ago, founder and director, Jeff Wenzler taught school in one of the Antigua neighboring villages of Santo Tomas (where we mentor students). He spent 6 months there and fell in love with the culture and people. The diversity between the wealthy, the poor, the farmers, and Mayans all blend together in the Antigua area. Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage protected city that lays at the base of a dormant volcano. Within this picturesque ancient city are countless markets and colonial buildings and churches that line the cobblestone streets.

Is Guatemala Safe?

There are inherent risks to all travel, especially when volunteering in impoverished areas outside the Unites States. Those who have been to Guatemala who have practiced common sense have had positive and safe experiences. Service work with the poor is not for everyone. We make every reasonable attempt to limit risk by associating our group with reputable organizations, lodging, transportation and institutions. We stay up to date local news and mostly in tune with our friends who work and live in Guatemala. We have access to a phone while traveling. We inform the local US Embassy of our presence. We travel with locals who are respected in the community. We stay at local hostel in Antigua, Guatemala. We surround ourselves with the children, teachers and caretakers where we volunteer. This helps in the area we travel. Most facilities we serve at are behind secured walls. We limit our travel at night and to areas that have a history of problems. We have mapped the best medical facilities available (pharmacies and private clinics) in case of the need. We travel smart, limiting the display of expensive technology (cameras) and money. We utilize private transportation or walk in groups around town. Antigua, Guatemala is a UNESCO world heritage protected city that has many foreign travellers. As you would in any travel to an unfamiliar city or country, educate yourself about the places you go. Antigua, Guatemala and its surrounding neighborhoods have been very welcoming and safe for all our volunteers. Call trip leader Jeff Wenzler with any questions. 414-403-2279

Is the Water Safe to Drink?

No! We drink filtered water or bottled beverages to stay hydrated. Avoid brushing your teeth with tap water and only ask for ice if the restaurant says that their ice is made from pure water “Agua pura.” Most travellers request a prescription of an oral antibiotic to be used if they get substantial traveller’s diarrhea. There is no sense in not being able to participate in activities that you have invested time and money into. The CDC has recommendations for healthy travel to Guatemala. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/guatemala

What if I get ill?

We have access to pharmacies and a medical clinic. Antigua has many foreign tourists from backpackers to wealthy travellers. There are multiple options for healthcare within close proximity. Unless it is an emergency Pivotal Directions staff will communicate as soon as possible to discuss options. Emergency contacts will be called as soon as possible.

What do we eat?

Guatemala is rich in culture and cuisine. Volunteers will have opportunities to dine out for occasional meals at their own expense or eat what the hostel and Pivotal Directions provides. Most meals at the hostel will be American style buffet meals with some Guatemalan additions. Lunches will be sandwiches that we prepare such as peanut butter and jelly. Breakfasts are an assortment of choices including pancakes and egg dishes. We make our own homemade guacamole throughout the trip. It’s awesome! Volunteers with dietary restrictions may need to pack food or purchase additional food at their own expense. Food outside of a grocery store will not have an ingredient list. The cooks at our hostel can accommodate most dietary needs. Contact Jeff Wenzler at wenzler@pivotaldirections.org about dietary questions.

What activities do we do in Guatemala?

The Pivotal Directions trip to Guatemala is a cultural service adventure. The culture is rich and the needs are great. We are volunteers immersed in a unique Central American culture. We stay in the heart of a city lost in time. Everywhere we go is something new to see and learn about. There will be cultural hikes, discussions, and visits to protected heritage sites. We will volunteer at three main locations. An orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS, a home for children and adults with a variety of physical and cognitive challenges, and a mountain school mentoring children from 6-15 years old. Our free day will be a visit to the Filadelfia Coffee Estate. Students will have the option for zip-lining, paintball, or a coffee tour. Each night is filled with fellowship, team building, discussion, reflection and journaling.

What is the weather like?

Antigua, Guatemala averages 60-70 degrees- sometimes rainy and cloudy. Cool nights.

Are there adult chaperones for the high school trips?

Yes. Trip Leader/Founder and Executive Director, Jeff Wenzler has taken hundreds of students to Jamaica on service trips over the past decade. The staff is comprised of handpicked, background-checked professionals such as teachers and nurses and seasoned college leaders.

Where do we sleep?

After arriving in Guatemala City we are transported via shuttle to Antigua and spend our week in a hostel that we have stayed in for the past six years. This is a secure facility in bunk rooms with private showers and toilets. We eat the majority of our meals there and the volunteers have enjoyed the variety of options for breakfast and dinner. The owners are our friends and the staff is very friendly. Some speak English. The rooms are cleaned daily

Do I have to speak Spanish?

It helps but it is not required. Students who have a basic understanding of Spanish and who are willing to practice it will get the most out of the trip. Not being able to communicate poses some challenges but there are many other students, staff, or friendly Guatemalans willing to help. “Trying” is the key to an enjoyable, cultural experience.

Do I need a passport?

Yes. There is a fast way of obtaining a passport if you are concerned about time. Due to this trip quickly approaching I recommend the expedited process. Visit this link for more info:  http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html

What is included in the cost?

The fee covers all in-country costs: food, basic snacks, ground transportation, daily leadership processing and direction, activities, service experiences, group t-shirt, international trip insurance, The Pivotal Life: A Compass for Discovering Purpose, Passion & Perspective” book, tips and donations. Pre-trip preparation meeting or Skype session if out of town and post-trip debrief is also offered. Post-trip letter of reference for resumes and future applications/scholarships, and/or letter of volunteer hours accomplished.

What fees are not included in the trip cost?

Fees not included: airfare, food/snacks in airports, luggage fee depending on airline ($25-$40.) Some students determine on their own to bring an additional bag of donated supplies such as soccer balls, tooth brushes, school supplies, arts and crafts. Each piece of luggage can weigh up to 50lbs. Additional snacks that students tend to purchase at the grocery store or hostel (soda, chips coffee, smoothies, pastries, etc.,) that is above and beyond what we provide, crafts and fruits at the market. The markets of Guatemala are massive and there is much to buy for friends and family at great prices. Picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions can pack or purchase needed items. All optional. We recommend $100-$150 spending money.

Photography

Cameras are not permitted for a variety of dignity and safety reasons. Staff will upload a significant amount of photographic memories on Pivotal Directions social media (Instagram and Facebook.) These may be downloaded following the trip.

Can I donate financially?

YES! Financial donations help the local community and economy. These donations are put to great use in our daily projects to help us help more. In the past, donations have gone to the impoverished mountain school we have mentored children at. Contact Jeff Wenzler at 414-403-2279 to discuss the best way to make a specific donation.

Communication

NO cell phones or other communication devices are permitted as a part of the Pivotal Directions program. In order to be fully present for the group and those it serves, devices only divide and distract. Items of value also have a greater potential to be stolen and compromise the safety of the group. Any devices found will be confiscated. Some trip staff will have phones if the need to communicate arises. Communication may be limited. We will update social media regularly so that friends and family can follow along.

What should I pack?

A packing list of what to bring and what not to bring will be provided at one of the prep meetings.

Securing Passports

Passports are required for international travel. Passports must not expire within 6 months of departure.

Passports will be locked safely by the trip leader.

References

Pivotal Directions is very transparent. At any point you can request multiple references from past volunteers, leaders or parents of volunteers. We are proud of the experiences we provide and our safety record.

Additional Questions

As more questions will arise so please feel free to contact the trip leader, Jeff Wenzler for help.

414-403-2279 or wenzler@pivotaldirections.org