Roan and Neo Sanders

 

Roan and Neo Sanders

Field Note #219


We only saw a small but beautiful glimpse into the lives and selfless hearts of Roan, 17, and Neo, 15, Sanders. Though they are no longer with us, we can’t help but smile at their persistence to fight the global water crisis despite their young age. Below is an account of Roan and Neo’s involvement with Wine To Water from the perspective of Lisa Merritt, Volunteer Program Director.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations to Wine To Water.

Neo Sanders showing off a ceramic water filter he made in the Dominican Republic

Neo Sanders showing off a ceramic water filter he made in the Dominican Republic

In early 2016, a middle school teacher contacted me inquiring about international service opportunities for her students. Chrissy worked at Sayre School in Lexington, Kentucky, and deeply cared for her student's hearts. She wanted them to experience life outside their home culture and chose to never cease at this pursuit.  

Ian Thornberry (left) and Roan Sanders (right) showing us the clay on their hands after molding a clay filter

Ian Thornberry (left) and Roan Sanders (right) showing us the clay on their hands after molding a clay filter

At the time, the W|W Volunteer Program was still in the early stages of establishing and developing our policies, but I remember one of the topics discussed was age restrictions on volunteer trips. After discussing this with the team, we determined that we would take the "risk" to have an underaged group of students serve with us in the Dominican Republic. In July 2016, Neo Sanders, at the age of 11, signed up to serve in the water filter factory in the DR. A week or so before Neo was to board the plane, he broke his leg, which prevented him from going on the trip, so his brother Roan went in his place.

The next summer, Sayre School wanted to go on another trip with us to the DR, and Neo finally got his chance! I was able to host this team and Neo was definitely one of the volunteers that stood out to me. He was smart, funny, and brought light to so many people's lives.  He loved that trip so much, that he decided to sign up and serve the following summer as well.

Neo (in green) listening in during a filter follow up

Neo (in green) listening in during a filter follow up

In February of 2019, as a freshman in high school, Neo had another opportunity to serve in Cuba with his school for a week. On the final day of that trip, he shared something he learned on his W|W trips. He shared the five possible stages of reentry into your home culture after you come back from a volunteer trip: Fun, Flee, Fight, Fit-In, and Fruit.

Once he returned home safely from Cuba, he also shared this list with his mom on Saturday evening, February 17. His mom recalled Neo talking about how much he wanted to bear fruit. He wanted to take the lessons he had learned from his trips and make an impact on the world. Unfortunately, this was the last conversation Neo had with his mom.

A few hours after this conversation, around 3 a.m. on Sunday, February 18, Neo (age 15) and his older brother Roan (age 17), were in a fatal car accident. These two young teenagers, who were on a journey to serve others with their lives, were gone.

As the Volunteer Program Director for W|W, my heart is heavy as I process this news. My heart beats to provide opportunities to serve because people are worth it. Chrissy understands this, the middle school teacher that originally contacted me in early 2016, also understood this concept. This is why she chose to be such an advocate for her students to get involved in service opportunities. Our passion isn't just to get people to sacrifice a week or two out of their year but to make it a lifestyle to impact the world on a daily basis.

I'm not sure what Neo or Roan's life would have looked like in the future, but there is something special about knowing one of their last conversations on earth was about serving other people. It puts what we do into perspective. I have to trust that the ripple effects of these service opportunities are making a great impact on many lives around the world.

This upcoming summer will be the fourth group of students that Sayre School sends to the DR. Neither Neo or Roan will physically be on the trip this time, but their spirit of service will surely live on.

 
Juliet DeRienzo