GREENWICH, Conn. — It wasn’t until Brooke McGrath of Greenwich spent time at a girls home in Panama that she realized her passion for helping others in a world so unfamiliar to her own.
“Their lives have been difficult and they have faced certain challenges that I can never even imagine facing, but they were the most loving, kind and happy people that I’ve ever met,” she said. “They appreciated every little thing, from a hug, to a smile, to a present, and their excitement and warm spirits were contagious.”
McGrath visited the orphanage, for girls ages 5 to 18, for a week in May. She and a handful of other volunteers painted the exterior of the home, planted a vegetable garden and took the girls to church on Sunday. McGrath said they also danced, sang songs and made friendship bracelets. The trip was hosted by Trinity Wall Street, a church mission group in lower Manhattan.
“It was the most incredible experience of my life,” said the full-time CPA for American Express' Treasury Department.
She added that by the end of the trip, the Panamanian girls and volunteers took turns crying and hugging one another because they had gotten so close in just a few days. And what made their bond stronger was that they were able to communicate even though girls at the orphanage didn’t speak English, and McGrath spoke very little Spanish.
The trip made McGrath recognize she has a purpose in life: to help those less fortunate. “I realized what I really needed to do was to help teenaged girls in that stage of life when they are still figuring everything out,” she said. “I want to focus my attention on that.”
In October, McGrath will take her next trip with Trinity Wall Street, to New Orleans, where she and a group of volunteers will continue to repair the damage that still plagues the city after 2008’s Hurricane Katrina.