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The Westcoast Connection Blog

Life Changing Experiences

WCC & the President’s Volunteer Service Award

Westcoast Connection has become a Certifying Organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a prestigious award given to those completing community service over a 12 month period of time.

Since our involvement with this award began, we’ve already had alumni earn the Bronze and Silver Medals of distinction and we even have one who is putting their hours towards earning the gold medal – that’s over 150 hours of service in a year! Today, we’d like to share some of their stories with you.

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Last week we emailed some of the award winners and asked them to share with us their experiences of service, travel and recognition. Their stories continue below. 

If you are interested in earning this award, it is available to any US citizen or resident and you can use your hours completed on our programs towards earning it. For many participants it only takes 50 hours (that’s just one program for many of you!) to earn the Bronze medallion.

For more details on how you can earn this award on your summer program you can call and speak to us about your interests and goals. 

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Matthew Tralka – West Friendship, MD – Costa Rica Community Service 28 Days, 2015:

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Could you provide us a description of some of the projects you completed?
The projects that I participated in during my 28-day Costa Rica community service project varied greatly, one week I was mixing and laying concrete for a single mother by her house on the northwestern shore with the Guanacaste Community Project and the next I was in La Carpio with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, playing with the local children and helping their families around the house. One of my favorite projects was working with Habitat for Humanity around the outskirts of San Jose. During my week on the project I witnessed the incredible dedication and kindness of the Costa Rican’s, as they pushed through heat, rain, and exhaustion to work happily alongside my trip mates and I. Their commitment and resolve to the project only inspired us to push harder and harder through the various and numerous obstacles we encountered, we were dead-set on making them a safe and secure place to raise their family.

In one word, can you describe that experience?
Awakening

What was the most unexpected aspect of the program?
The most unexpected aspect of the program was how much our group made a difference. Through the 4 different service programs my group and I had an honor to work with, we started or ended the construction of 4 homes, positively influenced the lives of 60+ children, and created numerous signs promoting the preservation of the local wildlife and culture.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for people considering getting involved in a program like this?
Don’t hesitate to do it, everyone wants to know they made the world a better place, and with Westcoast Connection you’re guaranteed to.

Why did you want to earn this award? How will you utilize it?
I pushed toward this award so I could show myself and others the accomplishments I have completed. I will use the PVSA to bolster my application to the United States Naval Academy and eventually show future employers that I am dedicated and willing to work for any goal.

 

Noah Schwab – Millburn, NJ – Costa Rica Community Service 21 Days, 2015:

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Could you provide us a description of some of the projects you completed?
While in Costa Rica, my group and I helped to construct as well as reconstruct homes in different parts of the country.  One house we were helping build from scratch, was to be a home for a mother and daughter who suffered from the extremes of poverty and homelessness.  Another house that we worked on had been ravaged by the earthquake in 2012.  In both sites, we put in tiring hours of effort, but we were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment in helping those who were in need.  Other tasks we took part in were less laboring, such as playing with children whose parents had to work, helping out in local schools, and running a day camp for underprivileged kids.  Although less tiresome, these tasks were just as rewarding as the others.

In one word, can you describe that experience?
Inspirational

What was the most unexpected aspect of the program?
The emphasis on bonding definitely surprised me. We focused on building relationships with one another.  The several projects that we took part in brought us all so close together because we were working together to achieve a common goal.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for people considering getting involved in a program like this?
Stop considering and commit. The trip I went on very quickly became the best summer of my life and it opened my eyes to new ideas. Everyone going on a trip like this needs to anticipate hours of hard work, but also know that it will all be worth it.

Why did you want to earn this award? How will you utilize it?
Winning this award would be less of self gratification and more of raising awareness in my community.  I know that in a town where word travels fast, people will learn about this award and be inspired to do volunteer work themselves.  The award would also serve to illustrate how important helping others is in my life, and it could potentially help me down the road in the path I take.

Emily Silver – Short Hills, NJ – Ecuador & the Galapagos Community Service 25 Days, 2015:

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Could you provide us a description of some of the projects you completed?
The projects I completed varied from painting houses at an orphanage to working with senior citizens to planting trees in the beautiful Galapagos Islands. The first project was at the Fundación Aliñambi Orphanage, where we baked bread, worked on the farm, painted the houses, and interacted with the young children living there for about 3 days. Then, we visited a senior home where we put on a dance, played chess, and participated in other activities, all resulting in a great happiness for the elders. Following this we visited the outstanding Amazon Jungle, where we planted corn with an indigenous community. Although it was very physically challenging work, it was extremely rewarding knowing we will be providing them with food for the next few months. From there we went to the Galapagos, where we painted the buildings of a local school and got the chance to interact with high school students our own age. The last project was planting trees, a tradition typically done by visitors as a way of giving back to the island. In all, although each of these projects was very different from each other, they all resulted in major improvement in various Ecuadorian communities.

In one word, can you describe that experience?
Eye-opening.

What was the most unexpected aspect of the program?
The most unexpected aspect of the program was being able to directly see the impact we were making. I knew going into it that our actions and efforts would be helping communities for the better, but I did not think that we would get to witness the results. For example, at the orphanage, doing something as simple as playing jump rope with a child made them light up in an unimaginably blissful way… Seeing the responses of these people first-hand and feeling really good about what I was doing from their responses was by far the most unexpected aspect of the program.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for people considering getting involved in a program like this?
I would recommend people considering getting involved in a program like this to approach it with a very “go with the flow” attitude and be willing to be flexible with whatever happens.

Why did you want to earn this award? How will you utilize it?
I wanted to earn this award because I consider it an honor to be recognized by the PVSA for the service I completed in Ecuador. Although I will always remember my experiences from my time spent at the orphanage, schools, and with the indigenous communities, this award will serve as a constant reminder to myself and my family of the amazing work I did while in Ecuador. 

Congratulations and thank you to our alumni, we cannot wait to see how many more awards will be delivered in 2016!