JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Three 2013 graduated of The Bolles School traveled to Africa this summer to support the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation’s global outreach efforts in Uganda, Africa.

Sarah Bates, Jacqueline Flynn and Grace Marrese spent more than two weeks with children of the foundation’s Amaka ga McKenzie, or “McKenzie’s Home,” orphanages.

The orphanage facilities are named in the memory of McKenzie Wilson, class of 2013, who passed away in 2010.

The graduates saw firsthand the levels of poverty and disease the orphaned children in Uganda face each day. Citing values they developed during their Bolles experience, the alumni worked to make positive changes in the lives of Uganda’s youngest orphans.

“The trip was an eye-opening experience especially seeing the poverty –- the bond we formed with the orphans are ones that no matter what, will never be broken,” said Flynn, who is studying biological science at Florida State University this fall. “The time with the kids was very important to me because I wanted to make sure each and every one of them knew that they were loved regardless if they had a mom or dad.”

The Bolles graduates went to Africa with a larger group of Jacksonville students from the foundation. Bolles students played an important role in the building and maintenance of the Amaka ga McKenzie orphanages through various fundraisers and events sponsored by Bolles’ Club Kenzie.

Money raised by Club Kenzie has gone to many local and global projects, including the orphanages in Uganda. In the baby home orphanage, the woman who runs the facility showed the Bolles alumni and their peers the 40 cribs sponsored by funds from the Bolles club.

“The facility was wonderful, and that doesn’t even compare to the loving people inside of it –- you will never meet happier, more God-loving people in your life,” said Marrese, who is currently studying at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

The volunteer group typically woke at 5 a.m. and headed to the orphanage after breakfast, spending time playing with the children before tending to other chores. The students painted the girls’ orphanage for two days, and spent another day farming three acres of land.

On Sundays, the group led children’s church and visited the local hospital where they prayed for sick men, women and children to be healed. The group also delivered water filters to 12 families and taught them how to use it.

Bates, a University of Georgia freshman who was the former president of Club Kenzie at Bolles, described her involvement with the foundation as a way to still feel close to her good friend McKenzie – and help others at the same time. She said the group helped orphans with their chores once they returned from school in the afternoon.

“They had to hand wash their school uniforms and shine their shoes every single day, and I never heard the slightest complaint while they were doing it,” Bates said. She enjoyed playing soccer with the children during their down time while others spent the rest of the day reading or drawing with the orphans before attending evening worship sessions and dinner. “There are so many memories that will forever be imbedded in my mind, particularly watching the kids worship before dinner – they play the drums and sing praises at the top of their lungs. These kids have nothing compared to all of us back in the States but to them, they have God, and that is all they ever need.”

All three Bolles alumni who visited Uganda were grateful to have been given the opportunity to support McKenzie’s mission at school, and to have lived it out through their summer experience.

“By Bolles being so welcoming to McKenzie’s foundation and it essentially being the ‘home base’ for Club Kenzie, my trip to Uganda felt so rewarding,” Flynn said. “I felt as if I had the entire community of Bolles for support because going to a Third World country to me was terrifying. But in the end, I could not have asked it to go any more perfect than it did.”