by Andrew Garda
When Montclair resident Jack Snyder initially decided to attend Newark Academy, it was in large part because of the lacrosse. Not the largest of middle-schoolers, Snyder felt he would be overlooked in the large Montclair High School program, while the Minutemen would find a space for him on the field from year one.
Add in a rigorous academic curriculum, and the chance to go to Newark Academy felt too good for the Snyder family to pass up.
Four years later, lacrosse is still important, and the academics have prepared Snyder well for college —he’ll be attending Swarthmore College in the fall — but the biggest impact Newark Academy left on him was building houses in Antigua, Guatemala during the summer of 2017.
Newark Academy has what is called an “Immersion Requirement” for each student. The idea is to fully immerse the teens in situations and places they have never experienced. There are different options for this — for example, you could go on a “language immersion” trip — living in Spain or China while speaking nothing but the language of that country. Snyder chose to do what is called a “community-service immersion.”
“The first time I went was with about 20 kids from my grade, two teachers and a chaperone,” he explained. “We went and we built houses for two weeks, and it was the greatest experience of my life, basically.”
Snyder and his classmates worked with a group called Houses to Homes building small homes for the people of Antigua and it left a massive impression on the Montclair resident.
Snyder said he was struck by how little the people had, how grateful they were for his and his fellow students’ help, and mostly how lucky he is.
“I hadn’t experienced anything compared to what they’d gone through,” he said. “So, it opened up my world, [with] kind of a slap in the face. You realize how lucky you are.”
It moved him so much, that he and two friends did something never done before by the students from Newark Academy. They went back on their own.
“I felt like, I have to help these people more. That’s kind of my mindset.”
Two friends and Snyder set up a GoFundMe account, and were hoping to raise just the $2,000 needed to build another house. Instead, they raised $2,840, enough for the house and more, buying food and clothes for the people who would live in the home.
“The houses they lived in were really nothing,” Snyder said. “Sheet metal and cinder blocks. The house we made for them was maybe the size of an office, but compared to what they had, it’s such an improvement. The houses before that didn’t stop things like rain.”
A $2,000 house may not seem grand to most Americans, but the 12-foot-by-13-foot structure made a big difference to the people Snyder and his friends helped.
The impact of Snyder’s second trip didn’t just happen in Guatemala. Since Snyder and his friends went back, two other groups have now followed suit and made a second trip to their community-service country.
“So, we kind of started a little trend because we showed it was possible to go back alone. It’s really nice to see everyone helping out.”
The experience has left its mark on Snyder. At Newark Academy, he took several art courses in the school’s International Baccalaureate program and his work in Guatemala has impacted his art with deeper meaning and feeling, he said.
“I’ve definitely grown as an artist, and my technique, style and voice really came through,” he said. “I feel like I have made a lot of political pieces with a bunch of commentary as well. I was trying to do more with my art, not just drawing still lifes.”
As he prepares to head to college in the fall, Snyder said he knows he’ll need to focus on lacrosse and the higher expectations of college-level course work — though he feels NA prepared him well in that regard — but he’s not going to leave his passion for community service behind.
“I’m kind of going in a little blind,” he said of heading to Swarthmore. “But I’m passionate about certain things, and so I’m hoping that passion sparks in a field and I can just kind of run with it. “