Jerika Michel
Jerika Michel, left, founded the Sandy Interact Club to serve others.

SANDY — Two dozen Brighton High School students spent their recent spring break holiday serving and learning to appreciate the culture of the Hopi Indian Tribe.

The Sandy Interact Club, founded by Brighton High junior Jerika Michel, has been planning the trip for months. Before heading to Arizona, the group gathered everything from bicycles to buckets and clothing to give to the impoverished tribe. They stocked the display case at their high school with the donations, which filled a 20-foot trailer.

The teenagers also earned their own money to pay for trip expenses and prepared 3,000 candy-stuffed Easter eggs for Hopi children.

"Teenagers want to serve, but they don't have an outlet," Michel said. "We wanted to show what we can accomplish. The push came from us."

Arriving at the Hopi Reservation within the Navajo reservation near Flagstaff — after a nine-hour drive was a case of culture shock for the 24 students. They saw ancient 500-square foot homes inhabited by as many as 17 people without access to running water or electricity .

They also saw outhouses that sent human waste off the edge of cliffs and they encountered a cultural tradition of being whipped with yucca plants for blessings.

"I still have my bruise," said freshman Jared Smith.

The group was accompanied by two building contractors who instructed them in repairing roofs and building additional outhouses. The teens also packed mud between the stones of houses, distributed their donations to several villages and attended a Hopi religious celebration.

"We went into a woman's house—it had a fireplace and bed, but no door," said Charity Jessop, a junior. "When I walked in I got tears in my eyes. I just thought about how blessed I am."

Jessop added that her adventure — which included cold showers and being locked out of the only motel in the area — was very beneficial on a personal level.

"I think we understand what it's like to work and benefit other people," she said.

The group also learned tolerance and respect for traditions and beliefs very unlike their own. The Hopi people live much as did their ancestors did, who first inhabited their villages in the 13th Century. Their leaders have prophesied that the world will end if they change their ways so they shun modern conveniences and integration into the mainstream.

"They have the means, but they want to keep their culture alive," Jessop said. "How they eat is they plant their seeds and they pray for rain. Our job is just to understand people and support them where they are."

Sandy Interact, chartered by the Sandy branch of Rotary International, got its idea to help the Hopi after Michel and a friend accompanied a man named Mike Sweat on an earlier trip to the reservation. Sweat runs the non-profit organization Hopi Outreach, which takes supplies and donations to Arizona several times a year.

For more information on the Hopi people, visit Sweat's Web site