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In service of others: Haitian Initiative opens world to AAHS senior

Mattie Bogart (center) and her younger sister Ellie (left) huddle with kids from the Jack Schneider Memorial Fund sponsored team they worked with this year in Haiti. (Contributed)1 / 4
Mattison Bogart2 / 4
Mattie Bogart (back row, fourth from left) poses with coach Kelli Wendel and the Lakes Area club gymnastics team at the state meet. (Contributed)3 / 4
Mattie Bogart (right) works with senior Nicole Witt at Rise and Shine prior to school last week at Alexandria Area High School. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)4 / 4

In hindsight, the cards may have been perfectly stacked all along for Alexandria Area High School senior Mattie Bogart.

It started when she used to babysit a neighbor boy who had been adopted from Haiti. Every project she has done in French class has been on Haiti. Two soccer players from there stayed with her family for a week as part of the Haitian Initiative. However, her connection to Haiti really took hold during an eight-day trip to the impoverished country last month with her mom and sister.

"That was life-changing. Absolutely," she said.

"Yes, there's poverty, but we got to see the absolute beauty of the country, and the ingenuity they use to make their lives work," said Bogart, who was also impressed by their spirit and how they make every day the best they possibly can.

"I'm definitely more thankful for what we have here. It has made the school year a little easier as well."

The school year comes to a close on Friday night, when Mattison Bogart — she has been called Mattie since kindergarten to avoid confusion with another girl named Madison — will join 287 other members of the Class of 2019 for the school's graduation ceremony.

Haitian connection

The Haitian Initiative is designed to make a positive impact on youth in that country. As is often the case with exchange programs, the impact goes both ways.

When Brendan and Tracy Bogart took in two players last summer from Haiti, a brother and sister, they were given a pull-out bed outside of Mattie's room. After everyone had gone to bed, she heard them flick lights on and off, and the television, too.

"I remember them exploring our technology," Bogart said, noting that in Haiti they go without power much of the time. "I didn't sleep a wink that night because I was listening to them.

"I was so excited to learn from them. That cultural exchange, and the knowledge that they were able to exchange with us, that's so beautiful. There's so much we can do to learn from each other."

Through various methods, Bogart remains in regular contact with about 10 kids from Haiti. In getting to know them, she was struck by the similarities in her friends here and the ones there.

"One of my biggest takeaways is how you go from America, the most industrialized, to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and you talk to kids around your age and they're the same as you. (They have) the same sense of humor, the same mental struggles and insecurities. They face different things than you, but yet we're the same people."

Getting involved

Twice a week, Bogart gets an hour head start on the school day. By 7:15 a.m. she is at an area of the school called "The Nest," along with maybe a couple dozen other high schoolers, for a peer tutoring program, Rise and Shine.

According to Michele Johnson, a paraprofessional who leads the program, there is only one rule: Be as positive as you can. That's not a problem for Bogart, one of three seniors who have been mainstays since their freshman year.

"She has a natural gift," Johnson said. "When she first came in, she was kind of quiet. But she had all those gifts, and it's been very gratifying to see how they have blossomed."

Bogart has also been a part of: SLAM (Serve, Lead, Act, Motivate), where juniors and seniors serve as positive leaders to younger students, including a pledge to stay substance-free; a 212 team where juniors and seniors collaborate with administration to promote positive changes, one of which is a kindness initiative; and student ambassadors, giving school tours and working with freshmen on professional skills.

She called the academy program — which slots students into one of three paths in preparation for college and/or careers — "fabulous." Bogart loved how she was able to key in on her interests in the Health Sciences and Human Services academy, while branching out into other areas. For example, this year she joined DECA.

Through opportunities to take college classes at Alexandria Technical and Community College, Bogart will start her post-secondary education with 35 credits.

After school, she can't wait to get to Lakes Area Gymnastics, where Bogart has been part of the club team despite three knee surgeries that have limited her ability. That would have stopped anyone else, said Kelli Wendel, program director and head team coach.

"Mattie has probably the strongest sense of perseverance of anybody you've met," Wendel said. "She stuck through it even though she wasn't the same version of herself."

Even so, Bogart competed at the state level at the Minneapolis Convention Center in March with a half-dozen other team members.

The past four years she also has coached kids from ages 2-15.

"I love it so much. Coaching is probably my favorite thing I do right now," said Bogart.

Lakes Area Gymnastics has become her second home, since she is usually there five days a week and sometimes on Saturdays.

"We joke that it's my first home," she said.

Teaching ability is one of Bogart's strengths, Wendel said, and one she has a gift for.

"Beyond that she has a real sense of compassion in trying to figure out other people," Wendel said. "That translates well into helping people learn."

Future straight ahead

Bogart will be following her older brother to Concordia College in Moorhead in the fall, probably to pursue a degree in elementary education. To expand her options, she is looking at minoring in French and business management. But that could, and has, changed.

"I have debated majors and minors ever since freshman year. Literally a month ago I had a midlife crisis. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, you want to be a nurse now,'" she said.

She has also been thinking about organizations such as the Peace Corps or WorldTeach, which offers teaching opportunities around the world, to work with children from other countries.

"I feel like that aligns with my passions really well," she said.

It's by far her only passion. But personal accomplishments aren't what motivate her.

"She does it in service of others, and not for herself," AAHS Principal Chad Duwenhoegger said, calling Bogart a servant leader. "She has a great empathy for other people. She is a tremendous young lady."

If you go

What: Alexandria Area High School Class of 2019 graduation ceremony

When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 31

Where: AAHS gymnasium

Info: Traffic flow has been changed to one way into the main parking lot off of Pioneer Road, exiting onto 50th Avenue. Overflow parking and extra handicap-accessible parking is available. Admission restricted to only those with tickets. The ceremony will be streamed, starting at around 6:45 p.m., at www.alexandria.k12.mn.us

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