Local Siblings Spend Summer Giving Back

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photos contributed by Oslyn Rodriguez

By Wil Crews
sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

Most children spend their summer playing at a local playground, swimming at a friend’s pool or getting into trouble where they shouldn’t. Well, that is not the case for the Torbert children.

Sure, Mary (17), Alexandria (15) and Noah (13) still have their fair share of fun, but the Torbert’s are spending a good portion of their summer giving back.

Together, the three Opelika High School students are volunteering their time to the local nonprofit Backpack International. The organization provides for underprivileged families and children in Guayana, South America, by providing essentials, from donating a meal to a local family or a backpack filled with school supplies and toiletries.

“We just recently started volunteering with Backpack International,” Alexandria said. “We knew about the organization when Mrs. Oslyn founded it back in 2016. Back then we weren’t able to be as active as we are now. She reached out to us and asked if we would like to volunteer and we accepted because we thought it would be a great chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and give back to the kids in Guayana.”

Alexandria said that once Backpack International Founder Oslyn Rodriguez explained the substantial lack of resources and the immense needs that these children and families in Guayana have, she and her siblings knew they wanted to help.

“There are children our age over there,” Alexandria said. “Just something as simple as reading a book … the library is like a prison … they have to smuggle books because they just don’t have anything to do and they just want to read and have an education. Over here, we are free to do that and they can’t even have the opportunity to do that. So that made me want to give to them, so they can do that.”

Collaboratively, the Torberts have an ingrained motivation for their service habits, one that trickles down from their parents’ faith. Personally, the three children all have different motivations for giving back.

According to Noah, “It’s a really awesome experience to know that what we are doing is going to other kids who don’t really have anything.”

Mary’s motivations for serving are similar. “It’s a really great experience just to help others that are in need besides ourselves,” she said.

Alexandria, the most vocal of the three, went into broader detail on her family’s selfless values.

“As Christians, we believe this is a way for us to give back to the community through the Lord,” she said.

“So, we just like to minister to some of the children and let God’s light shine through us.”

Parents Keith and Marlene Torbert promote and echo their children’s altruistic lifestyle.

“One thing that I have always tried to instill in the children is to always think outside of yourself, to align yourself with something that is bigger than yourself,” Marlene said. “My life mission and goal has been, for whatever they do, I don’t care if you are cleaning a toilet or handing someone a bottle of water, to know that you are being the hands and feet of Jesus and to allow that simplest task to be an extension of him. Because your service is not for yourself, it’s for him. As a parent, this brings me joy — that they have taken that and volunteered to offer themselves for that service.”

Additionally, Keith hopes the values he and his wife have instilled in their children will last generations.

“That’s our inheritance for our children,” he said. “They leave a legacy, something that people will remember. Not because of them, but because of what they believe in that touches other people’s lives. They aren’t better than anyone, we aren’t better than anyone, but we want them to help be an example and know that other children their age can stand outside of the norm and stand for something that’s right. It may not always be easy, but it’s well worth the while. I pray they love it [service] and they will continue the pathway their mom and I have set and they will continue on to be blessed wherever they go.”

Serving through Backpack International is not the Torbert children’s first experience with volunteering, either.

“We have done some other volunteer work in the past,” Alexandria said. “We do volunteer at a local church and also my father is a part of another ministry … [where] we help give to some children in Peru.”

When it comes to the actual volunteer work at Backpack International, Alexandria said Rodriguez is always ready to put them to work.

“She has a warehouse, and there are backpacks and supplies that have been donated by local businesses and churches,” she said. “We go through, she gives us a checklist and we fill the backpacks with each thing on there. The backpacks are divided by age category. We will fill it with things like coloring books, crayons, hygiene products and things like that.”

Rodriguez has seen first-hand the rare, selfless nature that the Torbert children possess.

“The Torbert children, or ‘Team Torbert’ as I affectionally call them, are some of the most respectful and hard-working kids I have had the pleasure of working with in my role as a former school teacher as well as executive director of Backpack International,” she said. “They were efficient, and all had the most pleasant disposition. Once I gave them a task, they completed it fully, and with excellence. BPI is eternally grateful to Team Torbert for all of their hard work and hearts of service.”

As far as the future goes, the Torberts have no plans to ramp down their service efforts.

“We do plan to keep on volunteering as long as we can,” Alexandria said. “As for future volunteer service projects, we plan, if possible, to go on mission trips to Guayana and Peru, so we can go over there and actually see the children and minister to them.”

Naturally, the Torberts won’t be spending all of their time volunteering this summer. They are children. They have dreams, too. Noah wants to go to Disneyworld. Alexandria wants to go to Paris or Los Angeles. Mary has more mild-mannered hopes and would be happy spending lots of time with friends here in Opelika.

Whatever they do, one can assume it will be with a positive attitude and servant hearts.

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