mast jackie plumakerATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – Even with senior year at the US Naval Academy and all the responsibilities of being a leading midshipman looming, Jacque Plumaker chose to spend her spring break sleeping on an air mattress in an un-air-conditioned church hall rather than basking in the sun on some beach.

The daughter of Victoria and James Plumaker of E. Lincoln Ave., Jacque was motivated to join FOCUS, Focus On College University Students, a campus outreach missionary group with more than 20,000 alumni, active on 125 campuses throughout the United States, including some 18,500 active college students today.

Mission of FOCUS is to encourage collegians to grow in their faith and become closer to God as well as spend time helping the impoverished during college with a goal of continuing their work either abroad or at home in their own parishes after graduation.  FOCUS accomplishes their goal through their mantra of “Win, Build, Send, ”..win the student, help her build her faith, then send her out to win others through friendship and education.

Jacque, who attended the local elementary school and graduated from MAST in 2014, said that although FOCUS is completely independent and not affiliated with the Academy in any way, it is a permitted group that helps student to grow in their faith, and “they do support that,” the midshipman said.

Focus was the motivation for Jacque to forego that week-long spring break in March and go with 17 other collegians from across the country to Jinoteja, Nicaragua, a city of approximately 125,000 residents in a valley in the north central region of the country. The area produces 80 per cent of the coffee exported to the United States and other major countries but remains poverty-stricken since there is no other industry. FOCUS missionaries spend their week meeting and greeting the residents on a door to door basis, helping maintain the church and its grounds, and making new friends among the natives. FOCUS has been doing their annual visit for several years now, and Jacque said it was exciting and thrilling to see how happy the people where to see and greet them upon their arrival. The students all slept on air mattresses in the back of church, and got their fill of the local diet, which consists primarily of “a lot of rice and beans,” tacos, vegetables and some meats.

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While Spanish is not a requirement to make the trip, Jacque is fluent enough in the language to be conversational, and that helped in meeting new families and engaging the children in conversation.

The graduating senior, ho will be commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Navy on May 25, said it is not so much what the local people learned from her as what she learned about herself following the trip. “I had never seen such poverty before,” she explained, “it was both surprising and a real eye opener for me. I certainly have an entire new appreciation for everything I have and the way we live here.” On the other hand, she noted, “not only are the people appreciative of our coming and making friends with them, but they are also very positive and have a great attitude. “She easily admitted “I don’t understand their way of living,” but said they enjoy a much simpler way of life and have simple desires.  “The trip made more of a difference in my life than in theirs,” she said, “because in one week you don’t really see a lot of difference in what we do.” But, she quickly added, “because the trips are made every year, and new friendships are formed, it’s the cumulative difference that is so sustainable

The week-long adventure had such a strong impact on the young woman that she believes “everyone should try to do this at least once in their lifetime. It has certainly changed my way of life and how I look at life.”  Others should try it if only to immerse themselves in another culture and realize that we might all be from different cultures, but we are all people and we all have something to offer the world.”  She said the lessons she has learned from the trip are lasting, have brought her closer to God, have convinced her that once back in her own parish she will take roles in spreading the word and keeping the congregation active, and concluded, “I’m happy with my position right now.”

Jacque is majoring in general science and hopeful once she is commissioned will be able to enter some field in the Navy which keeps her involved with oceanography in some way. She opted for the Navy rather than the Marine Corps for her active duty because “the Navy has the best exposure for me and more flexibility because it is larger than the Marine Corps. It’s simply a better fit for me,” she shrugged.    Looking back, four years at the Academy has certainly be tough, but admittedly in her senior year, “I can see all the fruits of my efforts and struggles. As a squad leader, with midshipmen from all four years under her guidance, she has learned many leadership skills. At the same time, through FOCUS, she has also grown in her faith and grown closer to God…”I didn’t expect that, but it’s pretty cool.”