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If you do something, do it with all your HEART…

September 21, 2014

By: Marta Odainic, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar

Marta is a Work and Travel participant from Moldova who is very passionate for programs focused on helping those infected with HIV/AIDS and preventive teaching for teenagers. This summer, she has taken time to volunteer while living in Chicago.

Volunteering, it has always seemed to me, is like a door to discover who you are. Because when you volunteer for something, you can do that for yourself, to make you happy.

 

I did volunteer work in many areas that interested me. My first step on this wonderful road was when I became a member of a group called “Youth in Action” in my hometown. There, I discovered the concept of it, and the benefits it has for me and for the community I live in. I was involved in many interesting projects regarding environment, kids with disabilities, the elderly, and many other social issues.

 

The experience I gained is priceless, so during my stay in the United States, I decided to continue with this activity, with the guidance of the CCI Greenheart Family. Besides the cultural exchange program I’m involved in, I took some time to volunteer for two projects:

After having spent just less than a week in Chicago, I attended my first Greenheart Service Project that took place at the Xochiquetzal Peace Garden. This place reminded me of my granny’s garden: full of flowers, different plants that you can use as medicine and in the kitchen, and even more importantly, it was full of sunshine and nice people.

At this event I met my Cultural Outreach Coordinator, Haldis Toppen, and other members of the Greenheart Family. We also enjoyed the company of our hosts, who explained how to take care of the plants and how to live in harmony with nature. I was lucky to meet some volunteers from China. We all helped to clean the garden, and at the end, we enjoyed a pizza party.

For my second volunteer project, I decided to do something different; something that I had never done before. The Universe seems to always work for us, as I found a nice opportunity to be a hostess at an Italian Festival in the United States. Doesn’t that seem cool?!

My love for the Italian culture brought me to Festa Italiana. I greeted people at one of the entrances. Besides that, I had time to make some new friends, to teach them some Italian words, to share my knowledge about the Italian culture, and to try some Italian food (to be honest, it didn’t have that much in common with true Italian food, but it was tasty).

Also, I enjoyed the live music, and had a lot of fun watching the meatball contest.

If you have never tried volunteering, DO THIS as soon as possible. And do it with all of your HEART. You’ll realize how important you are in this big world. You’ll realize that you have the power to change something, to make miracles happen.

Together, we can make it!

 

 

Volunteering — Here We Go

September 20, 2014

By: Xiaoman Zhu, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Participant

Xiaoman Zhu is a Work and Travel participant from China who works at the White Castle in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.

 

But now, through volunteering around Pennsylvania, I know much more about myself and the nature of our lives.

This is my first year coming to the USA, and also my first time participating in a volunteer program. Before I came here, I seldom paid attention to nonprofit projects, even when I had a lot of free time. I didn’t know how to kill time to make life more colorful and meaningful. But now, through volunteering around Pennsylvania, I know much more about myself and the nature of our lives.

Next, I want to talk about some of my experiences volunteering. My first volunteering chance fell on me when I was walking to work. On the way, I often saw a lot of trash everywhere, which attracted a lot of flies and made the environment much worse. Therefore, my friend Lulu and I decided to pick up the trash when we were off of work. It was not a hard work, but it was also not so easy. Sometimes we had to walk into the middle of the road or across barriers to reach the waste. And unluckily, we never remembered to take the gloves. However, after we had finished the work, we felt like everything was so different. The lawn was covered with green -without any plastic bags or bottles. The side of the road was clean without cigarette ends. Our community was tidy without so much trash.

 

The third time, I went to a blueberry festival to prepare food and drinks for visitors. I learned how to make blueberry/strawberry lemonade in a simple way, which I had never tried in China. I can’t wait to go back to make this for my family and friends. At the beginning, I forgot to wear gloves, so the whole day my palms and fingers were dyed blue from the blueberry juice; it looked very funny. During my half hour break, I saw a lot of the staff around the large farm where the festival was held. Some of the kids were riding horses; some people were lying down on the lawn; some were visiting the garden full of plants and flowers; some were eating and drinking, talking, and laughing. I enjoyed the day with my friend a lot, and we were so happy to experience such a wonderful day!

My fourth experience was with my Chinese friends at the Five Sense Garden in Harrisburg. It is a public garden where people can walk, jog, and enjoy a relaxing bicycle ride on several paths. It is managed by a 91-year-old grandma, who is very nice and looks good and younger than her real age. I had gone there three times and had worked with a 73-year-old grandpa, who is also a volunteer at the garden and has worked there for 11 years. Because I am a short girl, haha, most of time I helped to weed around the roots of the trees and also in the smaller garden to make it beautiful. I really like to work close to nature and to breathe the fresh air. I also found a very clean lake beside the garden; the water is cool and makes people comfortable in a hot summer. I have enjoyed this quiet and beautiful place.

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Soon I will go back to China. I hope to get more chances to do volunteer work helping people in need or beautifying the environment. Through these experiences, I have made a lot of friends, both Chinese and American, and have had a good time with them. And I also realized one thing; sometimes people choose to do nonprofit work, not for reputation, but for a spirit and belief that lets them be benevolent, generous, and grateful. In life, people do not always get something from others or society because they don’t give or share “love” with the people around them. Enjoy your life, be kind to yourself and to others, and be friendly to the environment!

In life, people do not always get something from others or society because they don’t give or share “love” with the people around them. Enjoy your life, be kind to yourself and to others, and be friendly to the environment!

Hosting Jamboree

September 19, 2014

By Jillian Sims: AYP Compliance and Operations Manager

Host family and Maike gather for a family meal, al fresco style!

Host family and Maike gather for a family meal, al fresco style!

For Kati and her family in Colorado, adding an exchange student to their family unit has turned out to be a rather magical and, at times, a bit of a musical experience.

Maike on her first day of school in the US

Maike on her first day of school in the US

It all started a few months ago when Kati was registering her daughters at their local high school. “The three of us went from table to table crossing off items on a checklist. We arrived at one table and glanced down to find a photo of a smiling young lady along with her bio. Out of curiosity we picked it up and began reading about her. It was at that moment that the lady across the table, the local exchange program director, asked if we would like an exchange student. Finishing the bio, we responded, “Yes. We want this one!” Maike’s story read like that of our own daughters. She shared many common interests, likes, and dislikes – even to a common phobia of spiders! We did explain that we’d have to discuss the idea with my husband and our other two daughters first before committing to hosting Maike. By that evening, ‘Dad’ and the other girls were completely on board. We filled out all the forms and within four days, Maike was ours!”

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Family dog, Liberty, and Maike collaborating on their latest hit

Though it hasn’t been that long yet since Maike has arrived from Germany, the family has no shortage of fun memories already created with their new family member. You can find Maike and her host sisters, Hannah and Sarah, writing and singing original songs, or perhaps learning the words to “Let it Go” in German. Even family dog, Liberty, gets in on the action. And there have been other memorable and funny moments too, like one of Maike’s first days of school when host sister, Hannah caught Maike staring absentmindedly at a banana. “You know you have to peel it, right?” she offered. The lot of them fell into peals of laughter as Maike assured them that Germans are well aware of how to eat the cross-cultural fruit.

Host mom recalls another mishap involving the ice bucket challenge. “One of our favorite memories with our ‘new family’ is of three of the girls -

Hannah, Rebekah, and Hannah after an ice bucket challenge gone wrong

Hannah, Rebekah, and Hannah after an ice bucket challenge gone wrong

Maike, Rebekah, and Hannah – doing the ice bucket challenge. The combined weight of the full bucket of water plus Maike’s statuesque height meant Rebekah missed Maike’s head entirely and caught her right across her shoulders. The momentum of the bucket propelled it into Hannah, who slipped and fell causing Rebekah to come down as well. All three challengers dissolved into laughter as well as those of us who were filming the process.”

Of course, there are also times for more seriousness and other chances that the family has had to bond. Both the family, and even school faculty, have taken an active part in helping Maike increase her English proficiency in the first few weeks and months, which has been challenging at times. But how did the family meet the challenge and what can they offer as advice to other families in similar situations?

Kati begins at the core of her family’s key to success with Maike: “To someone who has never hosted before, we would say, first and foremost, be deliberate about communicating. Be open, patient, proactive, and positive! When it comes to ‘issues’, whether at school or on the home front, engage early on and communicate expectations or come to some sort of an agreement that is satisfactory.”

Speaking about her student’s academic and language concerns, “I think that helping Maike through difficulties at school begins at home… By patiently explaining processes, words, and situations she encounters at home, she is less stressed by what she encounters at school. We made a point of meeting all of her teachers the second week of school and inquiring as to how we could best team up to help her adjustment. Some of the teachers placed English dictionaries on her desk to facilitate better understanding, and all of them are available to give assistance to her. Parents and teachers alike encourage her efforts. I assist in homework by working with her when appropriate, quizzing her on vocabulary words and explaining concepts that she is unsure of. We also were proactive in tweaking her schedule of classes so that it was a better fit for her abilities.”

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Host sister, Hannah, says of Maike “her living with us is like living with your best friend!”

Overall, it has only been a fraction of the year that Maike will spend here, but the family considers themselves a solid unit and cannot imagine life without her already. Host Dad, Matthew says, “We chose to love her from the start!” Kati describes her family and how Maike fits within, “We are a military family and are always trying to instill resilience in our daughters; Maike possesses that virtue in spades! She is an incredible role model to emulate with regards to having a positive attitude, facing uncertainty with poise, and dealing with difficulties with composure and courage.”

Maike herself says, “I love my host family!” It seems pretty clear to everyone, that the feeling is mutual.

 

Want an experience like this for your family? Consider opening your home to an exchange student and learn how you can apply to be a host family by clicking here.

 

The Anchorage Pioneer Home

September 18, 2014

By: Jan Kartusek, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar

Jan is Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar, from Slovakia, who is in the United States for his third time. In this blog post, he describes his adventures, volunteering in Alaska. 

 

At first, it wasn’t my plan to volunteer at the Anchorage Pioneer Home (APH). The public library had come to my mind first. But one day, I stopped at the Anchorage Pioneer Home, since it was really close to my house, to get some information about volunteering. The staff was really friendly, and my supervisor, Marylin, said volunteering there would not be a problem. So I went to the orientation, where I learned how there are many people in the APH and about the kinds of issues they are overcoming. I volunteered in different activities. For example, at a birthday party, I served cakes and beverages and played “mind jogging” games, which focuses on forcing residents of APH to think for themselves and answer quiz questions.

 

A few days ago, I decided to go to a state fair in Palmer, Alaska to help the staff of APH. I spent the whole day – 6 hours- with my friend Louie, who is a 94 year old World War II veteran. I met other volunteers from different backgrounds, and I had a good time with Louie. He was interested in animals, so we went to a snake show. Then we explored the farmers market and some other attractions. On our way through the state fair, many people thanked Louie for his service to the country. It was fascinating to hear his stories from WWII and his deployment in the Pacific. After we were done, we all met in the entrance and I helped to load wheelchairs to the bus and van. We returned to Anchorage Pioneer Home and I thanked everyone. I think I will never forget my experience at APH.

 

Volunteering is great thing because it doesn’t cost you anything – only time. So if you are bored, don’t know what to do, or if you want to help someone and make a difference in your city, go out there and volunteer. There are many organizations around the world that need volunteers. You can learn a lot by volunteering. For example, I now know how the Anchorage Pioneer Home works, what the issues are, and more importantly, how to cope with death and pain that is everlasting in similar institutions.

 

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“Don’t be deceived by appearances”

September 16, 2014

By: Olga Mikulska, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar

Olga is a Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar participant from Poland. During her stay in Colorado, she wants to make an IMPACT (Interest, Modesty, Positive Energy, Altruism, Commitment, and Tenacity) with her volunteer experience. In her current blog post, she explains her experience.

 

I am Polish. So is my friend Tomek. And yes, we’ve been volunteering in the USA. For many people, it may sound a little bit weird, two Polish people volunteering in a much more developed and affluent country, but don’t be deceived by appearances. In almost every place, there are people who need a helping hand. In every part of the world, there are people who struggle to pay their bills, to buy the most essential products, or people who are left stranded without anybody there to accompany them in their daily life routine.

This exists even in Beaver Creek, the area which is well-known for lavishness, rich visitors, and even richer locals. I’ve been here for some time already, and I’ve done some observations, and I can confirm the irrefutable fact that a lot of people here have money to burn. But “a lot of” doesn’t mean everybody. It would be gross overgeneralization to say that. I think that it’s really important to realize that those who are in dire need of help are usually invisible. This is the case in the Vail Valley area.

I realized this when I was volunteering at the Salvation Army in Avon, Colorado. This is a religious, charitable organization that has a mission to bring salvation to the destitute and hungry. Its main goal is as follows… “the Vail Valley Service Unit of the Salvation Army provides emergency assistance and strives to meet human needs, in an effort to promote self-sufficiency. In fact, that’s so important it’s the mission statement. The Vail Salvation Army’s overall goal is to stabilize living conditions by providing food, shelter and housing, utility assistance, and basic needs for families and individuals who are temporarily unable to provide for themselves.”

Before visiting the Salvation Army premises, I didn’t even realize that there are so many families in the valley that actually need help, for various reasons. I’ve learned that this particular unit of the organization helps approximately 500 families on a monthly basis. It came as a bit of a shock to me because I had a totally different conception of the valley and its inhabitants. It was a very meaningful lesson for me. We shouldn’t take people at face value, make overgeneralizations, or not attempt to help somebody just because we assume that they don’t need any help.

So, the task we were given here was to do some weeding in the garden. It wasn’t the easiest one, especially owing to the fact that the sun was beating down mercilessly on our heads. Plus, any type of activity at an elevation much higher than sea level, (yep – Colorado is the highest state) may be intensely painful. But, the good news was that I loved the idea of doing something new, in the open air, and for a change. It was a very rewarding experience. We came home exhausted and quite dirty, but we felt a sense of fulfillment. Maybe we weren’t rescuing anybody, and maybe it wasn’t a super important mission without which the world would fall apart, but we were really happy that we could offer our free time and share our positive energy. I think that volunteerism is not only about some grand initiatives. Volunteerism starts with small gestures. Once you’ve learned how to derive pleasure from it, you’ll be bitten by the volunteering bug. :)

That’s why we won’t surely make do with this single experience, but we’ll give a hand at some other volunteering activities, here, as well as when we are back in Poland.

And below, there are some snapshots of our day at the Salvation Army:

Take care and try to be bitten by the volunteering bug!

 

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Ambassador Scholar Adelina Badea moves to the Desert!

September 15, 2014

By: Adelina Badea, Career Advancement Program (CAP) Ambassador Scholar

Romanian Trainee and Ambassador Scholar Adelina Badea has been in the U.S. now for over a month. Though many challenges are faced by all our participants, Adelina’s most shocking difference has been moving from her temperate Romania to dry, hot, Tucson Arizona. She’s taken her new life at the Canyon Ranch Tucson head on and has already experienced the diversity of nature, cultures, and life the U.S. has to offer!

One month ago my life was kind of perfect. I lived in a nice city in Romania, I had a nice job (I was working as  a ticketing agent in a travel agency) and I had many friends. But it wasn’t enough for me, I always felt like I had to explore more, to see how other people live and to learn about other cultures . So I chose to apply for an internship in USA.

After one month in USA my life is completely changed, my home now is in  Tucson, Arizona. I left my temperate climate, where I lived my whole life, for a desert climate which is so very new for me. My first impact when I arrived here it was the heat. I never thought I will be able to live with 105 Fahrenheit degrees(after one month I am still not used with this Imperial Unit system), so every day I thank Willis Carrier for inventing Air Conditioning because now our life is much easier. I can’t imagine life in Arizona without an A/C.

The second impact was the environment, here there are so many mountains, but where are the forests? These mountains are covered by very large cacti I have never seen before in my life. So every day instead of parks with trees I see these wonderful Saguaro cacti which are found exclusively in Sonora Desert. I can say I have never seen before such a beautiful sky with such wonderful colors, I can’t get enough! Every day is like I see a new painting with the world’s most beautiful colors.

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The cultural impact is not that big, maybe because I am used to travel and I saw different European and Arabic cultures so it is nothing to shock me. I am glad to live in Arizona because I can see how American people live and also interact with the Mexican population. Here in Tucson the Mexican community is large and I still have many things to discover about the culture.

The area is wonderful but I am not used to living in a city like Tucson, it is not a very big city but it’s spread out. Living here without a car is harder than living in a compact city where public transportation is more developed. So my first goal is to buy a car with my roommate and to start to discover the surroundings.

Even without a car, Adelina is exploring the new area!

Even without a car, Adelina is exploring the new area!

I love the area because it is so different from my country. I got used to the temperature, but I am still not used to living without a car. I know my life here is just starting and I can hardly wait to see what my future holds for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A day that is filled with nothing but positivity, smiles, and good memories.”

September 14, 2014

By: Jesse Richards, Work and Travel Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar

Jesse is a Summer 2014 Ambassador Scholar from Jamaica, working at Jumpin Jakes in Maine. In this video, he describes how much fun Old Orchard Beach can be!

A day in the life of my host community, Old Orchard Beach (OOB), is a day that is filled with nothing but positivity, smiles, and good memories.

Spending a day in Old Orchard Beach can be a memorable experience for a tourist, and guess what; it is no different for me even though I am living in OOB. Old Orchard Beach is the premier summer vacation destination in Maine, and I get to be here every day for the entire summer! How awesome is that?! OOB is full of attractions for one to indulge in: from the pier to the beach, to the many restaurants and chill spots.

A day in Old Orchard Beach usually begins with a beautiful sunrise. On the beach, you can find many individuals enjoying the spectacle of the sun as it rises above the horizon to give life to the day ahead. The town buzzes with activity throughout the morning. You have people stopping in at the various breakfast spots to grab a bite or just walking around to enjoy the morning sun.

When it is about afternoon time, take a walk to the Veteran’s Memorial Park…this is family friendly park that is situated on the periphery of the main area of activity in the town. In the luscious green grass of the park, you will find children prancing around under the watchful eyes of their parents. You will be a spectator of the teens playing basketball on the court in the park. There are still provisions for the older folk; they usually stick to playing croquet or just relaxing under the gazebo.

Another thing that Old Orchard Beach is known for is its vibrant and exciting night life. If you are a party person, there are more than enough places for you to have fun at night. The most notable spot is the pier; check it out when you’re there. But what if you are not into parties, and you just like to be free and have fun? Palace Playland is there for you! This theme park is filled with thrill rides and attractions for you to enjoy.

A day spent in Old Orchard Beach isn’t enough time to enjoy all that is has to offer…I’m living here for the summer, so I think that I might have you a little jealous. I can definitely say that I will miss this wonderful community. The memories created here will last a lifetime and you will be compelled to return. A day in the life of my host community, Old Orchard Beach, is a day that is filled with nothing but positivity, smiles, and good memories.

My happy face. Just kidding, the sun is in my eyes. Hmm, perfect day for the beach then! :D

My happy face. Just kidding, the sun is in my eyes. Hmm, perfect day for the beach then! :D

We're here! Old Orchard Beach; considered as the premier tourist destination in Maine.

We’re here! Old Orchard Beach; considered as the premier tourist destination in Maine.

Main Street, OOB, on my way to the beach...

Main Street, OOB, on my way to the beach…

I'm not the only one who is here to enjoy the beach. Many tourists from all over the world come here bask in the sun.

I’m not the only one who is here to enjoy the beach. Many tourists from all over the world come here bask in the sun.

Having a chat with Jeff the gardener, he is responsible for keeping the park looking beautiful...

Having a chat with Jeff the gardener, he is responsible for keeping the park looking beautiful…

...and then we goofed off a little...such a cool guy. Hats off for the hard work Jeff!

…and then we goofed off a little…such a cool guy. Hats off for the hard work Jeff!

It's the end of my day, so I'll have a little dinner at Big Daddy's restaurant. Yum!

It’s the end of my day, so I’ll have a little dinner at Big Daddy’s restaurant. Yum!

 

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