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The Problem Still Exists: Hurricane Harvey Relief

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Natural disasters are often overlooked by those who were not directly affected by it. We may hear them on the media for a few weeks; but eventually, our media refocuses on more current events. The short attention span of our social/news media nowadays does not nearly make up for the families’ recovery time of over a decade.

This summer, I got the opportunity take a pause on my own life in Philadelphia, go down to Houston with my Youth Volunteer Corps/Repair the World family, and work with the St. Bernard Project to help repair houses for homeowners who are still currently recovering from Hurricane Harvey that hit nearly a year ago.

There were ten of us, eight youth volunteers, our Repair the World fellow Becca, and our program director Greg. Together, we were able to help the repair effort at two houses: The Cardenas’s and Kim Ocain’s. In the span of three days, we managed to cover the Cardenas’s floor entirely with wood planks and helped the progress of covering the floor with tiles at Kim Ocain’s house. During our lunch breaks every day, we listened to other local Houstonian volunteers and project volunteers talk about the hurricane, their experience with it, and how they’ve been trying to cope with the damages as well as help others in the county. Our discussions made me realize that we often overlook the number of people’s lives lost and houses ruined, and that we often only see them as just numbers and statistics. However, it’s much more than that. Houses flooded to the ceiling, schools flooded so much that they had to be torn down, and sentimental objects that had to be throw away due to the mold that grew on them just hours after its initial contact with the flood water. What’s worse is how some people treated the homeowners. Despite the fact that these homeowners received money from the government to repair and recover from the hurricane, many contractors would take the money and flee away from the project, leaving the homeowners without money and without a plan to recover their houses.

A category 4 storm, Hurricane Harvey took the lives of almost a hundred people, left thousands more injured, and tens of thousands of homes, schools, community centers flooded and damaged.

Not only was the county’s infrastructure jeopardized, but so were the mental lives of every family. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night, scared, to the sound of soft raindrops because they reminded you of the four-day-long storm that ruined your home you loved dearly. Imagine explaining to your little elementary children why they cannot go to school for the time being because their school no longer exists. Imagine trying to reach out to contractors who eventually flee with the money the government granted you to repair your house.

Working alongside other volunteers of YVC, RTW, and SBP made me feel powerful as a helping hand in the Houston community, and devoting a few days to the recovering effort taught me so much more than any other experience I’ve ever had.

Houston has also made me realize that there are so many issues we don’t necessarily see and read about. However, they are still there, no matter where you are in the world. Despite the fact that I am not in Houston anymore, there are still so many ways I can get involved in the hurricane relief effort. Even just spreading awareness, donating, and sharing stories will help. Now, I am sharing my story of how I helped, hoping that someday, you can, too.

 

 

This guest blog post was submitted by Winnie Zheng. Winnie is a high school student in Philadelphia, PA., who has been an active volunteer with YVC of Philadelphia for 3 years.

 

 

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Before and After – Community Garden

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One of the biggest things that initially made me unmotivated or unenthusiastic about volunteering with YVC was that I didn’t see the “endpoint” or “goal” of the work we were doing. Of course, it is incredibly satisfying to see something you worked hard on reach its goal. However, when volunteering in most places, this is rarely the case. This is because the progress and change through volunteer work, in most cases, takes time. A very strong example of this lesson that YVC taught me was when I worked in a community garden.

 

The first “step” of my experience working there happened in May, when we cleaned and weeded beds for planting. I didn’t think very far into to the future of what would happen to the bed at that point in time, so I didn’t really think of how useful it might end up being to the garden. The work was relatively easy, but by the end of it, I didn’t feel as if I made a huge difference in my community. This was because I didn’t really see it benefiting anyone immediately.

However, during a summer YVC camp in late June I saw the bed, only it was overgrown with strawberry plants. We were told to pick the strawberries so that they could be given to a local food bank. The work was suddenly easier than the weeding project I did in May, because each time I picked a strawberry, I held the result of all the work in my hand. I had that feeling of satisfaction that I did make a difference in my community because I knew that those strawberries would eventually find their way to the food bank and then, finally, into the hands of someone who needed them.

That experience changed the perspective I have on volunteer projects that seem to be incomplete. Instead of looking at projects like the seemingly incomplete one in May as useless because they don’t seem to have any immediate effect on the community, I began to look at them as if they were a step on the path to completion. In the garden experience I shared, there are a lot of steps within it to reach the end goal. First, we had to weed and clear the beds. Second, someone, most likely other volunteers at the community garden, had to plant the strawberries. Third, someone had to pick them, and later, of course, they would have to be sent to the food bank and distributed. Even in this example, I “skipped” steps that would lead to the overall goal, such as the planting and sending the strawberries to the food bank. This experience gave me more patience when it came to seeing the progress made on volunteer projects, as each project was just a piece of the puzzle.

One of the coolest parts of seeing the “before and after” part of the process was that I got to experience the result of what I did and worked on. This really motivated me to work hard on any project, even if it seems like it doesn’t make an impact immediately. This was because I saw that all of the projects eventually make a difference, just some faster than others.

 

 

 

Ian is an active youth volunteer with YVC of Corvallis.

He currently serves on YVC’s International Youth Advisory Board

and is a YVC Brand Ambassador.

 

My Summit Experience

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When I first arrived at YVC summit I was greeted by some of the most energetic, positive people that I’ve ever met. The team leaders, adults, and all the volunteers were super welcoming and helpful. Summit embodied the true meaning of YVC perfectly and helped show me what volunteering is all about. Before going to YVC summit I loved to volunteer and I figured it would be something I would always try to do, but after going to Summit I realized the true importance of volunteers and I was inspired to work even harder with my YVC program and other volunteer projects in my community when I went home.

 

A YVC project has an icebreaker, a volunteer project, and the service learning aspect. Summit incorporated all three of these elements.
There were people from different cities, backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and socioeconomic statuses all coming together in a conference center in Kansas City. At first, I felt like we were all super different, it was one of the most diverse rooms I’ve ever been in; but then, I realized that being a part of YVC and having a passion for volunteering is what truly unified us. Through icebreakers and games, everyone was able to get more comfortable around each other and get to know one another. Summit offered a lot of free time where we were able to spend time with other volunteers and go out around the city which was really fun! It was eye-opening to meet so many different people and hear their stories.

 

Summit had service projects incorporated into the event and we were able to volunteer in the community. The cool thing about volunteering at Summit is that you get to learn about a different community’s needs rather than your own. It was a cool experience because I live in a pretty small town, so to go to a bigger city and volunteer showed how me how needs can be very different based on the location.

 

There were lots of opportunities for service learning spread throughout Summit that were educational and engaging. There were different lectures, lessons, and workshops to get youth volunteers learning! It was super cool how the lectures and lessons were applicable and relevant to our own lives. I went to a grant writing workshop and I learned how to appeal to different businesses. When I returned home I was able to use the knowledge to get sponsorships for an event my school put on! There were lots of really talented speakers at Summit, including youth. It was really meaningful to see so many people speak so passionately.

 

The YVC Summit has been one of the most memorable things I have ever done. Getting to meet so many amazing people who all share a common passion isn’t an opportunity youth can frequently find. Anyone affiliated with YVC in any way would benefit by going to Summit to further their love for volunteering.

 

Jessica Hovermale is an active youth volunteer with YVC of Corvallis

and has served on her local Youth Advisory Board for two years.

Jessica is an active member of YVC’s International Youth Advisory Board.

Alumni Spotlight: Sheliza Kassam

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Alumna Sheliza Kassam working with her nonprofit, Children’s Birthday Miracles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name: Sheliza Kassam

Years served with YVC and where: 2009-2015 through YVC of Calgary

Where are you now and what are you doing: Sheliza is a Drilling & Completions Engineering Intern at CNOOC Nexen Ltd. She also founded a charitable organization in January 2013, Children’s Birthday Miracles. Sheliza works there pro bono in her free time outside of her internship.

1)      What is one of your favorite memories of YVC?

One of my favorite memories of volunteering with YVC through Youth Central, our host organization, was a program we did that allowed me to peak as a leader. I served as a co-chair of the Mayor’s Youth Council and was one of 20 youth that represented the city and worked with the Mayor to find solutions to issues concerning youth. We saw other cities take part in similar programs and I was driven to see it begin in Calgary.

I’ve been fortunate to have an incredible mentor, Ros Doi, who has been with me since my time at YVC through Youth Central and has supported me in my career. Her support has allowed me to start a program in Calgary that allowed students from grades 6-12 to act as a mayor for the day. Our committee reviewed applications and sent our top choices to the mayor, who chose the final student. This student got to act as mayor for the day and lead the program and have their voices heard. It was an incredible program for me to be a part of. It really allowed us to hear what students had to say and have a student representative to act in a leadership role. Even the students who weren’t selected still had their voice heard, as we incorporated their ideas into our strategic planning for future projects.

2)      How did being a member of YVC affect your life/career path?

YVC greatly strengthened my communication skills. People often question the connection between engineering and communication, but most people don’t know that it’s important to be a social engineer. We need to see more people bringing together their communication skills and technical work – if you can’t communicate your ideas well, it won’t of benefit to you, your work, or your team.

Volunteering with YVC helped me articulate myself and present myself well in a professional manner. It also taught me how to empathize with others, communicate effectively, and build relationships in the workplace through the industry and through volunteering. I am now able to build valuable relationships with my coworkers. People often underestimate how important it is to build these relationships in the work place. When you volunteer, you’re meeting with a diverse group of people that you otherwise would maybe never connect with, like the homeless or children with disabilities. At the end of the day, you have to transform yourself to relate to these people. This teaches you something incredible.

3)      What is one of your biggest life events from the past 5 years?

In March of 2017, I had the opportunity to be recognized as one of L’Oréal Paris Canada’s 2017 Women of Worth. This was an incredible honor as I was chosen as one of 10 women across Canada, and I received a $10,000 grant for my charity. I had the opportunity to go to Toronto to network with the nine other inspirational women who are also not getting paid for what they do. These women are working pro bono and out of the goodness of their hearts to make an impact on their communities. Because of this opportunity, we were able to start a chapter in Victoria created by Sarah Nolin, and receive a sponsorship from Google. It was such an honor to be named one of L’Oréal Paris Canada’s first ever Women of Worth.

4)     What’s a unique fact about you that people don’t know?

I’ve been Bollywood dancing since I was three! Bollywood dancing is a huge passion of mine. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to dance as much with my busy schedule, but I try to take a class every now and then when I have time. I used to love to perform, and now I try to choreograph a few pieces of my own whenever I have a free moment in my schedule.

5)      Is there anything you want YVC alumni to know about you now?

I would love for alumni to know a bit more about my charity, Children’s Birthday Miracles (CBM). CBM is a charitable organization aiming to ensure that underprivileged children have the opportunity to have a birthday party. We throw birthday parties across the globe, and I truly believe we are making a difference. People underestimate the need for birthdays. There’s so much power to a birthday and I have so many wonderful stories and memories because of it, and I wouldn’t have started this without YVC and my experience with volunteering at shelters in my community. It can be very humbling to volunteer here, when I get to go and see how grateful kids are when their birthdays are celebrated.

I also like to remind people to know who you are, and don’t let your age play a factor in if you can do something or not. That’s the beauty of life! If every youth had the mindset that they could do anything they wanted, we could do incredible things.

If you’d like to learn more about Sheliza and Children’s Birthday Miracles, visit her website at: http://www.childrensbirthdaymiracles.com/

Direct Volunteering vs. Indirect Volunteering

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I have volunteered with YVC Philly since 2015 and in that time, I have learned quite a number of things. I  have grown as a person and a leader. I have grown more comfortable with myself and have gained a bit of confidence in public situations. Most importantly, I have learned about the issues within the communities of the Philadelphia area and different ways to address them through direct and indirect volunteering.

When people think of community service or volunteering, their thoughts typically gear more towards more typical events such as working in soup kitchens, cleaning up parks, or sorting foods that will be packaged. I like to think of these activities as forms of direct volunteering. It is a way to become directly involved, to be in the middle of the action, so to speak. There is a lot that can be learned just from being there and actually speaking to the people you’re serving.

One of my favorite annual projects is with the Jewish Relief Agency. We wake up at early hours and then spend a few hours in a huge assembly line (that runs very smoothly) to package various kinds of foods in cardboard boxes. We would then load the boxes onto a bus and drive to an elderly home to deliver them. I love being able to see the process from start to finish, from gathering all the pieces together to handing it to an individual and seeing the smile on their faces.

 

 

The other form of service can be referred to as indirect volunteering. This probably sounds a little weird. I see it as doing something that will make a difference even if you can’t quite see the end result. A lot of time, it deals with raising awareness about a cause.

I remember working on a Global Leadership project last year. The main objective of Global Leadership is to address an issue in another country and somehow devise a service project to support it. My group had chosen to focus on poverty and hunger in India and we struggled to figure out a project. After all, what could we actually do from half a world away; we couldn’t actually fly there and hand out food (well, not without a whole lot of funding). Instead, we created pins to bring awareness towards the issue. While we couldn’t directly help, it was keeping the issue alive so that it wouldn’t get swept under the rug of the world’s problems.

 

 

My first ever project with YVC also deals a lot with indirect volunteering. Every year, we work with Student Rebuild in which we submit certain artworks to raise money for a cause. That year, we were creating pinwheels in support of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. I believe that every pinwheel that we created was $2 towards the cause. While we weren’t actually able to directly help the refugees, I still felt the camaraderie between the volunteers because we knew that our cutting and folding was helping someone.

 

 

To me, direct and indirect volunteering are equally as important. They overlap each other in so many ways. Sometimes, you can be the one working in the communities you want to help. Sometimes, you simply don’t have the means to help directly but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything. It’s a way of empowerment, a way to show that you can make a difference no matter your circumstance.

 

 

 

Jessica Jiang is an active volunteer with YVC of Philadelphia. She is a

YVC Brand Ambassador and serves on the International Youth Advisory Board.

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Angelique Williams

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Angelique Williams is a youth volunteer who began participating in the Youth Volunteer Corps program when she lived in Danbury, CT. After moving to South Carolina, Angelique sought out more volunteer opportunities and found YVC of Charleston.

 

What motivates you to serve?

I am motivated to serve because I love meeting new people and learning new things while also making a positive impact on my community. While growing up, I volunteered with my family a few times a year but after the tragedy at Sandy Hook happened my family started heavily volunteering in different projects such as Ben’s Bells, 5k races, and different fundraisers which sparked a desire in me to do more on a regular basis. That desire brought me to Youth Volunteer Corps.

 

When did you start serving and how old are you now?

I joined YVC Danbury when I was 12; I’m 14 now. Before I joined YVC, I often volunteered with my family.

 

What’s been the most meaningful service project you’ve participated in? Why?

I have enjoyed all of the YVC service projects I have done, but the one that touches my heart the most is volunteering at the senior center. I have the best time there and I always leave with more knowledge than I walked in with. The people there are such fun to hang out with and play games with. They are so funny and they are the absolute sweetest.

 

What do you like about the Youth Volunteer Corps model?

I like that I am learning people skills and valuable life skills such as time management, responsibility, and altruism. Most of all though, I love the many connections I have made throughout the years. I hope to maintain these relationships for many years to come.

 

Why was it important for you to keep participating in YVC after you moved from Danbury?

I see it as a way for me to get to know my new home. I had such fun volunteering with the Danbury YVC that I wanted to continue the experience in Charleston. I’ve done some great projects in Charleston already; the special needs prom was awesome!

 

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned through your service with YVC?

I have learned to put things into perspective. Life is complicated and I’ve learned to not judge others so quickly and practice more understanding and empathy. I think mostly I’ve learned that even though I’m one person, I can always make a difference. What I do matters.

 

Do you plan on continuing to volunteer after you graduate from high school?

Yes, I plan to ultimately always volunteer in some capacity for the rest of my life. I look forward to doing some service projects abroad after high school.

 

Has your service with YVC inspired you to choose a career path?

I want to be a meteorologist and I have received great encouragement from many of the people I have met through YVC. Many well-known meteorologists volunteer at local schools and host learning sessions to teach kids about the weather, which I think is neat.

 

Why do you think others should volunteer and serve with Youth Volunteer Corps?

Honestly, serve because it’s fun! You meet new people, go to new places, and learn interesting things. It’s such a different experience when you are volunteering with friends.

Projects Against Plastics: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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The Youth Advisory Board of the YVC of Alpena, Michigan, is bringing plastic to the forefront attention of our community. We have been heading a series of projects that bring a focus on a very real threat to our future: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a wide area about 1000 miles north of Hawaii and located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre that teams with humanity’s garbage and debris. This plastic-populated area of the Pacific Ocean is twice the size of Texas and home to an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash. The plastic we use and discard daily ends up here through ocean currents, where it accumulates- and has accumulated so much that within the last 40 years, it has increased to 100 times its original size. It poses a serious threat to the ecosystem, to us, and, eventually, to our future. Many organisms mistake plastics for food, which leads to the plastic, and toxins that come with, working its way up the food chain and into our own diets- that is, if the plastic doesn’t kill the organisms first. Debris leads to the deaths of about 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fish annually.

This information and more is what we’ve been teaching our community and our volunteers through various projects centered around plastic recycling. YVC of Alpena has partnered with NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for various projects, bringing in speakers to our youth volunteers to lead and educate. Once the weather warms up, we plan on aiding NOAA with summer cleanups along various roads, beaches, and lakes.

One of the cool projects we’ve tackled is making a recycle cap art mural. This project involved collecting bottle caps and other plastic caps and creating a collage of color in an artful design. This project took a week of construction for our volunteers. Caps used for the project were also collected by volunteers for a month before construction started. The number of plastic caps on the project is estimated to be over 3,000. Our YAB developed a presentation to go along with the mural, and we showcased it at NOAA, local museums, and other locations to help bring plastic to people’s minds. During our presentation, we taught about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, something we discovered many of our residents were not aware of.

YVC of Alpena will continue to do projects focused on this issue and other recycling topics. We hope to develop new ideas and community support for recycling efforts. With YVC, we are giving youth a voice and helping to change the world!

 

 

This blog post was contributed by Brook Mainville, Program Director of YVC of Alpena.

YVC to Me

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To me, Youth Volunteer Corps is more than a nonprofit organization. YVC has served more as a home for me and a place I could grow and learn more about the needs of my community and the world. I am grateful I’ve served with YVC throughout all of middle school, and especially high school. YVC has taught me many valuable life lessons that I will take with me wherever I go. I’ve learned how to become a better leader, how to serve my community and address the needs of my community, become more patient and appreciative, and countless more life lessons.

Throughout my time volunteering in high school, I’ve developed into a stronger leader and someone who has the power to change my community for the better. I’ve learned how important it is to have a voice and acknowledge issues my community and the world faces and how to work towards change. Without the help of YVC, I would not have become aware of how easy change is if I’m passionate and willing to put the work in to make an impact. Through YVC, I have developed into the best volunteer and leader I could be. I’ve learned how big of an impact YVC has on so many people, and with one step at a time we can all support and improve our communities together.

Although my time with YVC is coming to an end, I will always look back and reflect the impact YVC has made on my life. YVC has helped me see the effect my service has on the people that I am helping. I love putting a smile on peoples faces and providing them with help they did not have before. It takes as little as a few minutes to make someone’s day, and I am so grateful YVC has given me that opportunity.

I have learned so much about helping my community throughout my life. I have always enjoyed going out of school and seeing what the community is doing for others, and I have YVC to thank for that. I plan on continuing my service in the future and extend my hand even more, because this is our world and we have to preserve it for the generations to come. I have YVC to thank for so many memories and learning more about how I can serve my community anywhere I am!

 

This was taken during YVC Hampton Roads 2016 Summer of Service Camp. For one of the days, we went to the Gardens of Warwick Forest and did crafts and played BINGO with the residents!

 

 

 

This photo was taken during an ongoing project to make dog toys out of old t-shirts that would be donated to the SPCA!

 

YVC Hampton Roads made an appearance on the Hampton Roads Show on April 6th, 2018  to promote our Annual Canstructure Contest which takes place on Global Youth Service Day!

 

 

Maya Patel is an active volunteer with YVC of Hampton Roads

and serves on the YVC International Youth Advisory Board.

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Volunteering in Charleston, SC

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My name is Keory and I am an 8th grade student at Orange Grove Charter School. I joined YVC of Charleston in June 2016 and have volunteered a total of 74 hours since! My goal in volunteering is to enjoy giving back in service. I have attended two years of the Summer Service-Learning Institute and my favorite event is preparing food at the Ronald McDonald House where families of sick children come to stay. Doing volunteer work can be relaxing, meaningful, interesting, and energizing. It helps me to escape my Saturday chores but the opportunity to serve others also provides me renewed creativity, motivation, and a vision that I can carry over in my personal life.

I originally started volunteering with my mom. At first, I was convinced that I was not going to like anything about being a volunteer, but after I arrived at the project site and we started passing out school supplies, I questioned the reason why we had to do what we were doing. As my mom explained to me what it was like to not have the necessary things that some families can’t provide, I wanted to do more. Being able to volunteer and help others is a wonderful feeling.

 

 

Some of my favorite experiences volunteering with YVC of Charleston include:

Spending my Saturday at the Ronald McDonald House to prepare breakfast for families of children that are in the hospital, so they don’t have to worry about a meal.  Providing this type of comfort and caring for families helps me to sleep well at night.

 

 

I also love playing bingo with senior citizens in my community. I look forward to days that we do not have to go to school because I know I am going to spend time with my senior.

I enjoy face painting at our School Supply Drive in August. It’s great to see the kids coming out to celebrate the end of the summer and time for them to get ready and excited for the first day back to school.

 

 

Lastly, the Low Country Blessing Box Project was such a blessing to me and other YVC youth volunteers. These Blessing Boxes are anonymous donation sites for non-perishable food items, toiletries, and small baby care items. We refurbished a cabinet last summer and used it as a blessing box for Laundry Matters on Charleston’s Eastside. Laundry Matters is the only laundromat within walking distance for eastside residents so it is a staple in the community for residents to not only wash their clothes but to pick up a few nonperishable items while they are there. YVC of Charleston continues to stock the pantry each month with nonperishable foods.

 

Volunteering with YVC Charleston plays a big and important role in my life!

 

 

 

Keory was born and raised in Charleston, SC.

He is an active volunteer with YVC of Charleston

and serves as a YVC Brand Ambassador.

 

Alumni Spotlight: Alexander Smith

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Alexander Smith, YVC of Kansas City alumnus

Alexander Smith served with YVC of Kansas City from 2019-2014. He is currently a senior at New York University studying History and Communication. We caught up with Alexander and asked him a few questions on how volunteering with Youth Volunteer Corps has shaped his life.

What is one of your favorite memories as a member of YVC?

“Attending the YVC Summit in Kansas City was a wonderful experience. I had the unique opportunity to connect with members of the Youth Advisory Board, listen to incredible panelists, and meet volunteers from across the country. The summit reinforced my passion for service, while simultaneously highlighting the dedication and fortitude of young volunteers. To this day, I still stay in touch with summit participants, fellow YVCKC volunteers, and members of the Kansas City advisory board.”

How did being a member of YVC affect your life/career path?

“YVC helped catalyze my passion for public service and civic engagement. Now a senior at NYU, I feel these passions have been emulated in my person, professional, and academic endeavors.”

What is one of your biggest life events from the past 5 years?

“I interned at the Obama White House in the Spring of 2016. I worked full-time and had the opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama during my internship. It was an incredible experience and remarkable to work alongside talented staffers and managers.”

What’s a unique fact about you that people don’t know?

“I have a twin sister (who also did YVC with me)!”

Is there anything you want YVC alumni to know about you now?

“It has been wonderful to stay in touch with YVCKC volunteers and see what projects everyone is working on! It’s incredibly motivating and reassuring to know YVC alumni are pursuing their passion.”

Thank you to Alexander for taking the time to speak with us and share more about his life and how YVC has helped him find his path. 

Did YVC make an impact on your life? We want to connect with you! Sign up for our Alumni Network to connect with other alumni and share your story.

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