Bettering the World One Summer at a Time

Today's blog was written by Chiara Neilson, who volunteered in our office this summer. We asked her why she spent her summer volunteering when she could have been at the beach and here's what she had to say. Guest Post by Chiara Neilson

As a sixteen year old some find it strange that I am extremely interested in helping others. Parents and teachers are always amazed that a high school student cares about more than just herself.

The more interested and engaged I have become in community service, the more I realize that everyone is connected. It is definitely a small world. I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—over 2,000 miles away from the Firelight Foundation and still I learned about the organization from my sophomore history teacher. His brother worked here for a few years and had wonderful things to say about it. I’ve been visiting Santa Cruz since I was a child and now it offered me more than just a relaxing day at the beach. I immediately began emailing to ask if I could volunteer. I was amazed by the quick, enthusiastic response from the Firelight community.

Once I arrived, I dove right into typing, filing, and answering phone calls. One of my first tasks was going through handwritten grant proposals from organizations in Africa that were grappling with poverty. My assignment was simple. I needed to find the address on the letter and write it onto a Firelight envelope, which was stuffed with a polite letter explaining that the foundation was not able to provide funds at this time. Although the task was meant to be done quickly, I took my time glancing over the letters. I was interested in each organization and what it offered to its community. In many of the letters, the leaders of these grassroots organizations explained the dire situation of the families and children in their community. This really touched me. Most of the world struggles everyday with things that I take for granted. Clean running water, food, and medicine are difficult to come by in third world countries. This not only makes me feel lucky and privileged for everything that I have, but it also ignites something inside of me, which fuels my desire to help others.

Participating in volunteer work not only helps other communities, but it ultimately helps me grow as a person. It allows me to open my eyes to real-world problems and issues. Helping people makes me feel happy, but in an indescribable way. People love to feel wanted and needed by others. For me, volunteering fulfills this desire. Although I may never meet the people that my service benefits, I get comfort in knowing that I am helping to improve their lives. Volunteering also helps me meet new people. People who never cease to amaze me. People who care enough to do something about their world radiate a kind of joy that in the future I hope to acquire through my volunteering efforts. Through my service at different organizations, I have noticed that many high school students all over the world are just as interested in community service as I am. Which also makes me happy.

Chiara lives in Philadelphia and is a rising junior at Friends’ Central school. She enjoys many types of community service and looks forward to volunteering more in the future. She also hopes that her work will inspire other students to help better the world they live in.