A group of middle school students from a New Orleans charter school traveled to Killeen this week to volunteer at a local nonprofit retreat for ill and disabled children.

More than 30 students from KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts, an open-enrollment charter school in the heart of the French Quarter, traveled to Peaceable Kingdom Retreat as part of a service project and field trip.

“We were very excited to have them come out,” said Laura Nickel, program director for Peaceable Kingdom. “The group was really energetic; they had a lot of fun and were very willing to help out.”

Located on 120 acres of land just outside Killeen, Peaceable Kingdom serves chronically ill, disabled and special-needs children and their families. During their three-day visit, the students worked to prepare the retreat for its upcoming Summer Camp program.

That work included environmental beautification projects, clearing trails and refurbishing outdoor classroom space. The volunteers also helped with repairs, maintenance and cleaning projects, Nickel said.

In addition to putting in the hard work necessary to get the retreat ready for camp, the group also participated in team building exercises and recreational activities such as hiking, fishing, swimming and the retreat’s popular ropes course.

“They had a lot of fun, and especially enjoyed swimming,” Nickel said.

In order to participate, the students had to keep up good grades and behavior, said Lauren McNamara, a sixth-grade teacher at KIPP McDonogh who organized the trip.

“We teach students the values of character and service, and this trip is for students who have demonstrated those qualities throughout the year, and who are excited to extend such leadership to a new community,” she said.

The students are no strangers to adversity. They were part of the tens of thousands of students who were displaced from their homes and schools by Hurricane Katrina eight years ago.

“Most of our scholars come from challenging circumstances, and this is the only time in the year where they leave the city,” McNamara said. “The students will benefit from learning about and helping the retreat and seeing how even though they have difficulties at home, they can still make a difference.”

The students, who visited Killeen from Monday through Wednesday, also visited Austin before returning to New Orleans.

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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