We are home, unpacked and fully settled after our excellent adventure. Although much of the trip already feels like a dream, the memories and friends will be with me forever. I never wrote as much as I had planned while I was on the road and it was impossible for me to capture the extraordinary set of experiences of the past six months. Nevertheless, I have already incorporated the lessons I’ve learned into speaking, writing and consulting about teen volunteerism. These lessons will aid me well in the future and I can only hope that the organizations got half as much from me as I got from them. The road trip is over but the Do Good Adventure has just begun.
I was very honored to be invited to write a guest entry for the White House blog. The entry, which was posted on March 7th, gave me the opportunity to step back and rethink the goals and objectives of Do Good Adventure just as the road trip drew to a close. Here is my submission.
The challenges facing the United States are huge and the statistics can be daunting. Kids run away from home at the rate of one every minute. More than 650,000 people will experience homelessness tonight. One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence. On the other hand, as I have seen while spending the past six months traveling the country and volunteering at nonprofits, there is also a plethora of volunteers and voluntary organizations working daily to create a strong safety net for those who need it.
I have been volunteering since I was 4-years-old when my mom brought me to read with her at a preschool class of children from low-income families. I recited my favorite book, Good Night Moon, from memory, turning the page at all the appropriate times. Even at that young age I realized how good it felt to share my stories; to help others. That day I began a life-long commitment to service.
I can’t believe how much time has passed since my last post. Between travelling, touring and volunteering, I haven’t made time to write. The Do Good Adventure road trip continues to be exciting, eye-opening and incredible every single day. I’ll fill you in once I get back home and have time to catch up and think things through. For the meantime, if you want to know where we are, just check out my “Latest News”, “Road Trip Schedule”. or Facebook page. I’m going to pack my bags now. We’re leaving Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and heading to Portland Oregon.
I’ve always thought that lists of FAQs were a marketing gimmick. Now, after almost three months on the road and describing the Do Good Adventure road trip to dozens of people, I now know that there really can be frequently asked questions. So, in case you were wondering, here are some of the questions I’ve been asked most often, along with the answers.
How did you come up with the idea of Do Good Adventure? The idea evolved over the past couple of years. From the time I started high school, I planned to take a gap year after high school. I thought about the fact that, despite many teens being actively involved in their communities, teens often still have a bad reputation and decided that I wanted to spend my year working with teens who are active in their communities and visiting teen friendly organizations across the United States. As I looked around at exiting gap year programs, I learned that most domestic programs are based in a single city. I recruited my mom as my travel companion and Do Good Adventure was born.
How did you find your partnering organizations? The process was very organic. We started with a rough time frame and list of cities to visit. Then I started researching and asking around. I learned about many of the organizations I visited through word of mouth from volunteers, organizational staff and industry professionals. Searchable databases such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator were invaluable as well.
Did you set up the organizations in advance? Absolutely! Before I left home in September, I had contacted and confirmed dates with all of the organizations I would visit before Thanksgiving. I am now identifying the organizations I will visit for the remainder of the road trip.
What is next for Do Good Adventure? The trip will resume during mid-January and continue till mid-March. Unlike the autumn travel during which we drove more than 9,000 miles, this leg will be a combination of driving and flying. In addition, this year I will move into the teen volunteerism advocacy phase of Do Good Adventure. I have lined up a few speaking opportunities and am actively seeking others. I will also look for other avenues to tell the story, such as through the media. I am in awe of our incredible country, and of the many people who are working to make it an even better place. I look forward to sharing that message with as wide an audience as possible.
Next fall, I will go to college. I’m not sure what form Do Good Adventure will take then, but I look forward to integrating this year’s adventures into my college experience.
Yesterday on facebook a long-time friend reminded me of John F. Kennedy’s quote “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” As we head into the week that includes both the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination and a holiday dedicated for giving thanks, that quote resonates even more for me now than ever before. In the eleven weeks I have spent volunteering during the Do Good Adventure road trip, I have met many people who have found their way to do for their country. The volunteers at these non-profit organizations give their time while staff works long hours, often for a salary lower than they could command on the open market. Together, they create miracles!
Just taking into account the staff and volunteers at the eleven organizations I’ve visited, each year these teams feed thousands of people, clothe and counsel hundreds more, shelter hundreds of victims of domestic violence, rescue tens of thousands of companion animals and advocate for everything from ocean protection to teen empowerment. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations operating in the United States today. That
is a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of impact.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story…the story of the individuals whose lives are impacted by this work. The first night I volunteered with StandUp for Kids Atlanta, an organization that helps street kids, a pregnant 19-year-old came in for GED tutoring. She had already taken part of the test and was anxiously awaiting the results. The next night when she came in to shower and get clean clothes during hang out night she proudly announced that she had passed the portions of the test she had taken. Even as an outsider, I could tell that she credited StandUp for helping her succeed.
Or take the homeless woman in Houston who came to the Emergency Aid Coalition last week. I helped her pack the groceries for herself and her six kids. When I gave her an extra plate of cookies and a carrot cake, she was very appreciative that they would have something extra to enjoy on the holiday. I’ll never forget the look of relief on the face of the woman in the 9th ward who had lost everything during hurricane Katrina when I told her that the energy efficient light bulbs I installed that had been provided to her, free of charge, by Green Light New Orleans, would save her more than $500 on her electric bills over the life of the bulbs. She will, no doubt, make every penny of that savings count.
The staff and volunteers of these organizations change the landscape of our nation, especially for the people who need help most. They are not just asking what they can do for their country; they are jumping in and taking action. That gives us all a lot for which to be thankful.
Moving mattresses can be rewarding. I never expected that. Whenever I’m asked which volunteer project on my road trip has been the best or the most rewarding—and I’m asked that often—I think of mattresses.
Before I left San Diego, I had lined up all of the organizations I would visit on the road between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. In addition to choosing organizations that welcome teen volunteers, I primarily identified ones that offered direct service. I have always preferred the hands-on volunteer experience and the rush of satisfaction that goes along with it.
Of course, I still enjoy direct contact with clients. Seeing the look of relief on the face of a food insecure mom at the Grand Central Neighborhood soup kitchen in New York as I hand her a tray, gives me immediate understanding that I have helped another person. Interacting with kids with disabilities at an after-school program at Friendship Circle in Michigan brings a big smile to my and their faces. Knowing that I’ve helped a homeless pet at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is even easier. Just give the puppy some attention, and I get unconditional love in return.
During this trip, I’ve also started to realize how important it is to do the behind-the-scenes work as well. Hungry folks on the soup line wouldn’t have their food if we didn’t volunteer at Three Square. That organization is the only food distribution hub in Southern Nevada and supplies food to more than 250 partners. Most new rganizations, Including Colorado Ocean Coalition, could never get off the ground without volunteers writing grants, setting up web-sites and spreading the word.
Which brings us to the mattresses. The Women’s Safe House, a 50 bed domestic violence shelter in St. Louis, recently received a donation of new mattresses. Looking that the old mattresses, I could tell that this donation was much needed and would be appreciated. My job, for almost an entire day, was to bring the new mattresses upstairs and bring the old ones down. No direct contact with the residents. I was gone before they even realized that the mattresses were there. But I knew that I had taken a small role in ensuring that these women and their children, many of whom have been through horrors I can only imagine, will sleep a bit easier now. OK, it isn’t a rush of satisfaction; it is more of a glow. From moving mattresses. Sure do learn a lot on the road.
We have been on the road for nearly four weeks and I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone. While the trip odometer tops 3,000 miles, the distance I’ve covered can’t be measured solely in miles. It can also be measured in the people I’ve met: executives at nonprofit organizations intent on having an impact on the world; shopkeepers in small towns on country roads; students, teachers and administrators at campuses I tour; and volunteers from all over the world who are helping to promote social change.
The distance I’ve covered can also be measured in sights I’ve seen. From the beautiful red mesas of Utah to the snow topped tips of the Rocky Mountains to the flat plains of Western Kansas, each mile my mom and I spend on the road reminds us of the incredible diversity and beauty of this country. Much of my travel time in the past has been spent seeing the country from the air, as I end up in a new location almost as if by magic. Despite having already been to most regions of the country at other times, I feel like I am now really seeing the United States for the first time.
Perhaps most importantly, the distance from home can also be measured by the organizations at which I’ve volunteered so far. The range of issues these organizations address—teen empowerment, animal protection, ocean preservation, support for victims of domestic abuse—has already reshaped my thinking about the challenges facing my generation of volunteers and philanthropists. However, it is the moments that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Moments spent hugging a loving puppy who is waiting for his forever home at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Moments spent at The Women’s Safe House in St. Louis, Missouri, meeting women whose only safe place in the world is that 50 bed shelter. Moments spent thinking about the jarring contrasts of a beautiful countryside filled with amazing people and
our need to surmount seemingly insurmountable challenges.
While the Do Good Adventure road trip has just begun, I know I’ve already travelled a lifetime.