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Global Youth Service Day 2015: Serving Across the United States

May 18, 2015

By Elyse Voyen, Greenheart Club Program Assistant

Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), April 15-17th, was an important day for the Greenheart community. Many CCI Greenheart local coordinators (LCs) created projects across the United States, empowering countless students to give back to their communities and to make a difference in the world. We have compiled photos and reflections of exemplary projects to share with you. Mario, who participated in LCs Lasha Seaman and Felisha Brower’s GYSD project, reflects on his experience painting a mural, while Yevgeniya describes volunteering for “Community Pride Day” in Caldwell, Idaho with LC Nancy White’s GYSD project. We end with a recap by LC Nancy Stubbs of her GYSD project “Random Acts of Kindness” and a brief review and photo reel of LC Lori Tibbett’s project. We at Greenheart are so proud and thankful for all the many individuals who worked to make a significant contribution to their communities on GYSD this year!

Mural (3)“Greenheart Mural Project” reflection by Mario, CCI Greenheart exchange student from Lebanon

One of my favorite service projects was the one that I did during Global Youth Service Day. It was a mural project that was held at Driftwood Park, Evans, Colorado and was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever encountered. Many requirements needed to be met before the actual painting of the mural. One requirement was a hard-copy draft that I spent 22 hours painting in order for the city to approve our idea. On the day of our project most of the foreign exchange students in the surrounding area came to support and help us. In the end, the mural turned out to be amazing!

But the most important factor was the impact it left on me. I not only was joyous that the mural turned out beautifully, but I was also satisfied that I was able to contribute to my community and help beautify it using my talents. It’s amazing how much volunteering helped me grow and shaped my personality. All of these experiences have made me dream of  all the volunteering activities that I want to organize when I go back home.

“Community Pride Day” reflection by Yevgeniya, CCI Greenheart exchange student from Russia

In conjunction with Global Youth Service Day, a group of exchange students met in Caldwell, Idaho to help in the city’s annual Community Pride Day. This was a huge community effort led by the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. A group of CCI Greenheart students were given a grant from Greenheart to help fund the effort. It was a great opportunity for students to help their host community and to have fun and enjoy a beautiful day together.

The morning began with doughnuts and coffee, which was a great way to prepare for work. Students painted over graffiti and painted backdrops, picked up trash, raked winter debris, and planted spring flowers along the creek. A lot of work needed to be done, but community service turns into fun when young adults from all over the world get together!

By noon all the work was done by hard working CCI Greenheart exchange students and we had the chance to see the local Statue of Liberty, visit an exhibition of retro cars and even take a picture with a real camel! The meeting ended with a pizza party for all the volunteers who helped to make Caldwell beautiful!

WIN_20150418_102156 (3)“Random Acts of Kindness” reflection by Nancy Stubbs, CCI Greenheart Local Coordinator

We just finished a wonderful Cluster activity and Nour, Alina, Tanya, Jana and Carol all participated as well as 3 other exchange students from LC Jenifer Kallio’s cluster (Yuliya, Jan and David) and 2 friends from the area high schools.  We did a “Random Acts of Kindness” event for Global Youth Service Day.  The kids split up into groups with one adult in each group and we went to an area where we could help carry groceries to cars, wash windows at a gas station and help people grocery shop.  We gave each person a “hug” bag (Hershey version- we made them at the beginning of the day- seen in the picture).  Each student participated at each station for about half an hour. 

Afterwards we went to have lunch together and did a de-briefing session.  In this session we learned that the kids felt like it took them out of their comfort zone.  Some people were very nice and others kind of brushed us off.  Some people tried to tip our students, and I told them in advance not to accept tips.  Some people were really surprised that kids were trying to be helpful.  One lady said she was planning her son’s birthday party activity, and that she was going to try to do a Random Act of Kindness Day for that event.  They enjoyed serving others, but if a person wasn’t nice to them then it took more courage to ask the next person.  They liked giving out candies. Overall people were kind and it was a good experience.  I was glad two of the exchange students got their high schools involved by bringing a friend.  Afterwards, we went to a restaurant and had lunch together. It was a fun day! And right after we were done it started raining, so I was very grateful the rain held off until we were finished!

11149736_806452906106420_4196975200751661959_o (2)“Victor Valley Rescue Mission” project by Lori Tibbett, CCI Greenheart Local Coordinator

Our group of students volunteered at the Victor Valley Rescue Mission in Southern California over Global Youth Service Day and they have a lot of great pictures.  The three LCs involved were myself, Cindy Vance and Susan Twitchell.  We had 16 students, five of which are FLEX. Check out the amazing photos below!



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Greenheart Leader Weekend to Chicago 2015

May 15, 2015
By Molly Vidmar, High School Program Assistant

What do Pierluigi from Italy, Onno from Germany, Anahit from Armenia and Tala from Jordan all have in common? They are all exchange students in perhaps the most empowering year of their lives, they all volunteered over 75 hours, and they are the winners of the Greenheart Leader Weekend to Chicago! Every year, the Greenheart Club awards four exchange students who have demonstrated leadership and  passion for volunteering with a trip to the headquarters of CCI Greenehart .  Ashley and I are both newcomers to Chicago, so it was a novel time for us as well, to chaperone these exemplary members of the Greenheart Club.


Making s’mores on the rooftop













We kicked off the weekend with a Welcome Dinner at the Greenheart Center, followed by games, glow sticks, and s’mores on Ashley’s rooftop in Lincoln Park, with a stellar view of the Chicago skyline.  The Greenheart Leader Weekend is near the end of the exchange program, so everyone shared their emotions and excitement (and photos!) of prom, graduation, and end of school activities. It was a great time to reflect on how much they have grown this past year and how this program has changed their world view. The American high school experience is different for each exchange student. Onno has host siblings, whereas the others do not. Tala experienced her first Christmas and said it was magical because her host mom, LC Jacki Medeiors, puts up nine Christmas trees! We laughed over the silly questions that people inevitably ask you when you are an exchange student. Do you eat with a fork in your country? Do you have cars in Germany? Is Italy in Africa?

Anahit shares her volunteer experiences


Pierluigi and Onno paint at Bright Endeavors



Friday, the students met the Greenheart staff and toured the Greenheart offices. There was a pizza party and presentations on their unique volunteering experiences. We learned that Pierluigi spent his school year volunteering at a planetarium, where he taught children about science and how to build simple machines. Onno shared how rewarding it felt to hand out food to the homeless. During Tala’s school year, she volunteered with nineteen organizations. Anahit also worked with several organizations, such as peer court and The Red Cross. After these inspiring presentations, we made our way to an underserved neighborhood in Chicago, where we volunteered at Bright Endeavors, a social enterprise which provides job training to young mothers, who make beautifully scented candles. We learned about social enterprise and helped them paint, clean, and take inventory.


Architecture boat tour



Later, we sat front row on a Seadog speedboat for an architecture tour of Chicago. It was Anahit’s first time ever on a boat! We traveled through the locks that connect Chicago river to Lake Michigan, and gained the unique perspective of the city by boat. Sunset brought on a cool breeze and the city lights!


Splashing around in Crown Fountain


Making bubbles at the Bean


Saturday morning, we strolled through Millennium park, taking in the tulips and taking fun photos  in front of Cloud Gate, the iconic “Bean.” The NFL draft was in Grant Park, so we walked through a frenzy of football fanatics. Pierluigi played football for the first time in his high school this year, so this was especially amusing to him. After walking down the Magnificent Mile, we watched a Cubs Game at Wrigley Field because what’s more American than football? Baseball.



Cubs game


Our last night, we went to see Blue Man Group and before the show, on the stage was projected this quote,

“If you would like to establish a connection with people from another culture, it’s always good to offer a few gifts as a gesture of friendship. But, an even better way to forge a lasting bond is by creating something together. Whether it’s a meal, an art project, or just a spontaneous dance party, when you create with others, you build a connection that lasts a lifetime.”

I could not believe how well this quote represented our weekend together. We shared meals, stories, struggles, hopes and dreams, and created wonderful memories.

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Global Youth Service Day: Volunteering at a Food Bank

May 14, 2015

By Marcelle Benedicta, Director of Business Development & Operations

Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) was established in 1988 to celebrate and mobilize young people around the world to improve their communities through service. On April 16, in collaboration with the International Institute for Exchange Programs, CCI Greenheart participated in this largest volunteering event in the world by taking a group of Filipino J-1 Work & Travel participants to volunteer at a local food bank. International Institute for Exchange Programs (I-2) teamed up with our CCI Greenheart group to organize this event.

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank graciously welcomed us. This organization serves over 3 million people a year and provided 34 million pounds of food in 2014. In three hours, our J-1 Work & Travel participants helped in the packaging and distribution process by sorting, relabeling, or repackaging food. A few culinary-trained students even had the opportunity to help the chef in the kitchen preparing some hot meals. Most of these international students had never volunteered before, so through the orientation and by working with each other and local Americans at the food bank, they were able to learn what volunteering means and how their actions impacted their community. Plus, they had a great time doing it and even shared a Filipino song in this video!

GGHT video PA

Thank you to GYSD for providing the platform for young people to volunteer. These children and youth are addressing serious global challenges in areas such as health, poverty and hunger, education, violence and bullying, public safety, and the environment. We applaud them for making a concrete effort in making the world a better place! Follow @YouthService on Instagram and Twitter for more information on GYSD.

Give yourself a glance, to give our land a chance

May 8, 2015

By Elaine Ueda, Work and Travel Participant, Spring 2014

Elaine is a Work and Travel participant from the Philippines who demonstrated a deep commitment to her host community in Montana by volunteering over 70 hours during her program as a member of the Greenheart Club.  Elaine was awarded a Greenheart Service Grant to continue her passion for volunteer service and community engagement back in her home community. Read on to learn more about her project, “Give yourself a glance, to give our land a chance” about constructing a botanic garden!

My project was intended to make a botanical garden in a public barren land that was formerly used by the community as a dump site. However, there were sudden changes that happened as I was working on the project. After purchasing, the public land that was used by the community as dump site was already being cleaned by one labor worker and one volunteer homeowner. For three days, the land was still in the process of cleaning but we were given a notice that the land was already purchased by one of the homeowners and it was not considered as a public land anymore. So we told the president that since we were halfway through on doing my project, we’ll just do it instead in the church’s yard inside the village. The president of the homeowner’s association and the president of the church’s ministry both approved the idea. Mrs. Judy Junsay, the president of the Our lady of Fatima Church Officers was happy upon learning that we were going to be building a botanical garden and renovating the yard.


The first part of the project was deciding which plants would be grown in the botanic garden. We decided on a variety of medicinal plants, which can be used as natural remedies for a wide range of health issues such as cancers, gastrointestinal problems, and high blood pressure among others. My mother bought the plants. She bought guyabano or soursop, oregano, papaya, calamansi, guava, some flowering plants, and sacks of soil.


So, we started doing the project by cleaning the yard and planning what should be renovated. Upon continuing the project, the particular area in which the botanical garden would be was cemented and renovated by the labor workers. There were several areas in the yard in which the medicinal plants were planted. My mom, my sister, and one of the homeowners were the volunteers that worked on tasks such as planting the trees and plants, painting the pots, and cleaning the yard. The other side of the yard was renovated by arranging the plants that were already planted, putting red paint in the pathways beside the church, and planting guyabano trees. Me and my sister put plants in the pots and painted the pots. It was a success for giving the yard a chance to be new and to be a botanical garden. Although there were just a few volunteers, I am still thankful because a small act has still a great impact in the world. I am thankful for the labor workers, the president of the homeowners association, the church, and volunteers who helped to fulfill the project. I am thankful also to my sister for volunteering and being a part of this project. I am most thankful to my mom, for the full support she had for me. Also, thank you CCI Greenheart for giving me this opportunity.

final-garden_web       after_web

“The miracle is not that we do this work but that we are happy to do it” – Mother Teresa

May 7, 2015

By Rashid, CCI Greenheart High School Exchange Student

Rashid is an exchange student from Pakistan who was placed in Washington state. He is a YES student, sponsored by the Department of State. He has been an active member of the Greenheart Club with a total of 115 volunteer hours! Read about Rashid’s experience in the United States below.


My name is Rashid. I am an exchange student from Lodhran, Pakistan, a very small but beautiful district of Provence Punjab. Currently, I am living  in Marysville, Washington. I am living with a family that is not only open-hearted and most loving but also most generous too.  My curiosity about different cultures brought me here. I am studying at BIO-Med high school Marysville and also improving my skills in English. Since I have been here, I have done lots of thing to carry a bundle of memories with me back to Pakistan.  But one of my most fascinating experiences was volunteering. It inspired me a lot. It’s been my personal experience that whenever I help people I become very happy, especially when they appreciate it.

I volunteered  at several places and accumulated 115 volunteer hours! Mostly I volunteered at the food bank ” Seeds of Grace”, St. Philips Church and Everett Historical Theater. My very first volunteering experience was at the food bank. We worked to distribute food to people. When I introduced myself as an exchange students, I was amazed to see how people responded! That was a great experience.

Rashid2The volunteering activity that I loved the most was cooking dinner at St. Philips Church. In this way we got to meet such diverse people in the community and we also got to talk to them. It was especially fun to talk to those who already knew something about  Pakistan. Sharing experience with them and talking about both cultures made volunteering most fun for me.   I have always been passionate about volunteering because it has changed my perspective so much.

Now, I’m almost done with my exchange year and ready to go back to create a difference in my own country. I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I will share with the people in my community in Pakistan. I want to say thanks to U.S. Department of State for providing us with such a golden opportunity to change our lives and make our future more secure.

Say “YES” to creating a difference.

Announcing the 2015 Greenheart Club Leader Weekend Winners!

May 1, 2015

By Marney Coleman, Service Learning & Outreach Coordinator

This year, the Greenheart Club has had over 800 CCI Greenheart high school exchange student join as members and contribute over 17,000 volunteer hours. Each year we recognize four outstanding Greenheart Club members and, as a thank you for their hard work, we invite them to our Greenheart Club Leader Weekend Trip to Chicago. This year we selected two members from our Grants Program and two from our Academic Year Program. All students who volunteered over 75 volunteer hours were invited to apply. We received many applications and were astounded by the compassion, commitment, and level of excellence embodied in so many of the Greenheart Club members. Thus, it is with tremendous pleasure that we introduce you to this years winners, Tala, Pierluigi, Anahit, and Onno.

11146397_965890126762722_7306387025570185007_oTala from Jordan: My name is Tala Abu Hayyaneh. I am a 17 year old YES Exchange student. I live with my host family the Medeiros’ [CCI Greenheart Area Coordinator] in Richmond, Maine and I go to Richmond High School. My year is going great, I got involved in my community and with my family, I made a lot of connections and have been making the best of my year. Playing soccer for a fall sport, playing basketball for a winter sport and making the varsity team on both sports and going all the way to final games gave me a great high school experience. Aside from sports, I joined Debate, Drama, and Key Club. I got involved in Chorus class and I am helping my classmates prepare for an Arabian Traditional song that they are singing in the Spring Concert. Volunteering has been a big part of my year either with my School Club and with the town pantry or library. I would never wish for a better year and I am really grateful  to have come on the program, it has been a great year for me and I hope that I represented my country and the program in a good way.


My footballPierluigi from Italy: My name is Pierluigi D’Amore, I’m 17 years old and I am from Italy. Italy is a beautiful country with a lot of history. Much of this history is still evident, like the colosseum in Rome. My country is a southern nation in Europe and is a sunshine country. It’s also got beautiful beaches. I love my country not only for its beauties but also for its food. My host country is so big! The spaces are huge, very different from my home country. Everything is so fast here including people’s lifestyle. Always on the run. I like my host country for these reasons, it’s so modern, fast and everyone is friendly. My hobbies are mostly sports. I love playing soccer, I like basketball too and I learned that American football is exciting. What I appreciate a lot of my host country is that sports in school are very important. In Italy sport is something that you can do after school with your friends or private association. Volunteering during this high school year abroad has been my first experience. I volunteered at WKU Planetarium as audience assistant and tech operator. I enjoyed it and while I volunteered I felt that I was giving something to the others, not only the visitors but the staff as well. You get a good feeling when you are helping someone. This is one of the reasons I think volunteering is important. The whole year abroad has been a great experience and I will cherish it for a life time.

anahit photo 2Anahit from Armenia: My name is Anahit Ghazaryan. I was born in 1996 in Armenia. My family members are my mother, father, brother and sister. I am the eldest child in my family. My mother is H.R. manager in a medical center, and my father is a businessman. My sister and brother are students. I’ve graduated from high school in 2014.  In the same year I’ve graduated from Music and Art school with a major in opera. I’ve also graduated from Armenian Future Leaders School (2012) as well as American Future Leaders School (2015). One of them was “Democracy Starts with You” (2013). During which I represented Armenia in Brussels. I have participated in many different programs and received different prizes. And in 2014 I was chosen as a finalist for the FLEX program. Now I am in the United States. I have a lot of hobbies.I like reading, watching historical movies, playing chess, and singing among many activities. I am also interested in volunteering. Volunteering is very important for me as helping others is my greatest pleasure. Being in the United States has helped me to recognize and to love volunteering. I have volunteered at bicycle races (handing out food to the cyclists), at children camps (helping children with studying), at an ice skating rink (giving out skates) etc. I am also regularly volunteering at the Athens Morton Theater, at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Church, at the American Red Cross, and at the Athens Peer Court where I am volunteering as a youth advocate.  I have derived much personal growth and satisfaction from these varied experiences.


Onno picture

Onno from Germany: My Name is Onno and I’m 17 years old. I was born in Oldenburg, Germany where I live with my mother in a apartment in Germany. My parents are divorced and I see my dad regularly. I enjoy photography, long boarding, snowboarding and videography. My best friend Felix shares the same interests and I know him since my birth. I always volunteered in my life just to help people. I’m looking for a German military career or a police career. I wanted to do an exchange because I always loved America and I came here once when I was 10 to see the country. Since then I always wanted to live here for a year! Then I looked out for organizations and found CCI! I’m really happy to be here and proud to be one of the winners for the trip. Thank you very much!



Stay tuned for stories and photos from the students’ visit to Chicago!



Horseback Riding in the Desert

April 29, 2015

By: Adelina Badea, Career Advancement Program Ambassador Scholar from Romania

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I don’t know if you remember, but in my pre-departure video I said that one of my dreams is to ride a horse in the desert, and thank God my dream came true!

It is not the first time that I have seen and pet a horse. When I was a child, my grandpa had a horse and her name was Mona. I remember how much I loved that horse. Mona was used to pull a cart and not for horseback riding. Ever since I was a little child, my dream has been to ride a horse. When I found out that I would be coming to Arizona, I knew that my dream would become a reality.

My friends and I drove 45 minutes from Tucson, AZ before we arrived to this small village called Sonoita. Sonoita is one of the most scenic parts of southern Arizona. In Sonoita, there is the ranch where our guide and our horses were waiting for us. There, we met Marge and Ron who showed us our horses, and they helped us to get accustomed with them.

My horse was Zeke. He is a pinto horse and is very friendly. Before we began our ride, our guide gave us basic riding instructions. To be fair, I never thought it was that hard to ride a horse. When I climbed onto the saddle I realized that Zeke is a huge animal, and I really didn’t know how to control him. I was a little bit scared at the beginning because I felt like I couldn’t lead him.  In the end, I felt more comfortable because I realized that he is trained. He knows what to do better than I do, so I trusted him. Zeke was a little bit clumsy and he tripped a few times. When he went down on his knees he nearly scared me to death. But again, he knew what he was doing, so I calmed myself down.

The 3 hour trail ride was amazing. Rolling hills, lush grasslands, oak trees and canyons made this a great ride. I cannot express in words what a wonderful experience we had. It exceeded all of my expectations!



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