A junior at Dunwoody High School has focused the past two years on helping young students who speak English as a second language, locally and in Costa Rica.

Erica Holmes’ project, “Beyond the Backpack: Removing Barriers to Education,” aided students in the Chamblee and Doraville area with a backpack distribution event on Aug. 3 at Cross Cultural Ministries, a Doraville-based organization that provides free tutoring and English classes.

Erica Holmes poses with a student at Cross Cultural Ministries. (Special)

At Erica’s event, the students received a backpack full of school supplies, a dental hygiene kit, a personal hygiene kit and fresh produce, including vegetables Erica grew in a garden.

Erica’s interest in helping students started in March 2017 when she began learning Spanish in preparation for a Costa Rica trip where she taught girls how to sew skirts they needed for school uniforms.

She was able to use this community of people that she knew so closely as a mandatory project to achieve her gold award for Girl Scouts.

Erica spent 200 hours and most of her weekends for 18 months preparing for her March 2018 trip, which helped her achieve the Gold Award from the Girl Scouts. She took lessons on how to sew and worked with her project advisor to make a basic pattern for the skirts.

“We had to get the pattern as simple as possible then write out its steps,” Erica said.

Her Sundays consisted of working with a Spanish tutor to put the steps in Spanish, and then they would work on the teaching of the steps in Spanish.
Erica says that the best part of the project was seeing the girls’ faces when they finished the skirts.

“When they went into the bathroom and came out with the skirt on smiling and twirling this was the reward. I did not simply give them a skirt to wear to school, they made the skirt for themselves, which I think was empowering,” she said.

Erica later learned that some of the girls she taught are using their newfound sewing skills as a source of income for their families.

When Erica returned from Costa Rica, she began working on a community garden at Cross Cultural Ministries, tending to the garden and taking produce over to the organization.

The garden project later spurred the backpack distribution event, which was held in early August.

Holmes, center, taught young students how to sew during a March 2018 trip to Costa Rica. (Special)

“The kids were so excited to get their pack,” Erica said. Most of us take a new backpack and school supplies for granted, but the joy on their faces was rewarding knowing I helped with that.”

Sherri Vultaggio, Erica’s project advisor, was tremendously proud of her work with her projects as she had the opportunity to watch her grow along the way.

“Erica has become amazingly confident in her abilities to teach and lead. I watched her work with her peers here with confidence teaching in both English and Spanish the items that would be made in Costa Rica,” Vultaggio said.

“She has a contagious spirit that translates into people seeking her out to assist in whatever project she starts,” she said.

What’s next?
Erica hopes to attend Lee University in Tennessee, and later work with students in special education or English as a Second Language, or both. This spring, she plans to tutor students in English at Cross Cultural Ministries to help teach English and help them become academically successful.

This article was written and reported by Kaitlyn Garrett, a student at The Lovett School.