By Elyse Voyen, Greenheart Club Intern

The Greenheart Club  held its Fourth Annual National Essay Contest  for all CCI Greenheart exchange students and their high school classmates this year.  Students were asked:

Reflect on and describe a specific volunteer experience you have had. Explain why you think volunteerism is important throughout the world and in your community. How has your volunteer experience helped shaped your understanding of the significance of volunteering? Lastly, how do you hope to ensure volunteerism plays the role you want it to throughout the world and at home?

The winning essay receives a $500 grant to do a  Greenheart Project at the student’s high school. We received an  array of inspirational essays from youth across the country. After careful consideration of all the essays, a winner was chosen.

Yevhenia Zhylinska won with her touching personal account of the importance volunteerism played in bettering her life and how she took that experience to help those in need. Yevhenia is a CCI Greenheart exchange student from Ukraine who is now attending Sheridan High School in Wyoming. She is also a member of the Greenheart Club and had volunteerd 67.5 hours. All of us at CCI Greenheart congratulate Yevhenia on her hard work!

Read her essay below:

Let’s Create a Better World                                                                                                                           By Yevhenia Zhylinska

“Think of an idea to change the world and put it into the action.”

Growing up I heard the phrase “You are just a drop in the ocean” countless times. As I got older one question started to appear in my mind more and more often “What is the ocean without those drops?”.

One person can’t change the whole world, but an idea that one has can inspire hundreds of thousands to follow. This idea, when used by every person in the world, can improve our world and make it a better place to live in. Some people call it the good side of us, kindness, or the desire to help and other gave it a name – volunteerism.

Society as a whole is based on relationships. These relationships are based on trust, reliability and the most important one – helpfulness. Without these three things life would be impossible.

Help or volunteerism is the glue which holds our world together. Without it, the existence of the United States would be impossible. When pilgrims came to the New World in search for a new life, they ran out of food and were going to die. Native Americans saved them by sharing their food and and volunteering their time to teach pilgrims how to survive on the new land. Their decision to help changed the course of history, and gave life to one of the greatest countries in the world. Volunteerism existed for centuries, but was only recognized a couple decades ago.

The dictionary defines volunteering as the “use or involvement of volunteer labor, especially in the community services”. While this may be the case, I believe that it is much wider and way more spiritual than this. Volunteerism brings an individual to a new level of understanding the world, and shows that person that they are not the center of the universe. It lets us see the bigger picture and helps us to understand that our problems are minimal compared to what other people struggle with everyday. It helps use to appreciate what we have, and to think more globally.

As  for me, there is no better emotion in the world than to see that happiness and hope in the eyes of people whom you serve. I believe that volunteerism is not just giving my time to serve and help others, it`s also an opportunity to teach them, to show that there is a better world which we are building. Volunteerism is also about learning form those that you help.

Volunteering played a huge role in my life. I would not be the person I am today without it.

I have met a lot of people who have done amazingly generous things for me when they didn’t have to. When I was five my mom died and I didn’t have a father. So I stayed with my grandparents who could hardly get by on the social security money that they received from the government. I am astounded at the number of  people, who had known my family, that volunteered to help us in any way they could. Many came over and played with me. They brought food and clothes for me that we couldn’t afford. One of my mom’s good friends sponsored my education in the language school, and it`s only because of him that I know English. Soon my grandmother died and I had only one place to go, the orphanage. I was saved by my aunt. She is an incredible person, she volunteered to take me into her family even though she knew that it was going to be really difficult financially. She didn’t want my life to be ruined, so she stepped up and helped me. She gave me a future. I want to thank my host family in America, who opened their house and hearts to me, and who are ready to support and to love me as much as their own kids. I will never be able to pay back that love and kindness those people gave me, but I can take all that they gave me, and that I have learned, in order to help  other people who need it.

I volunteer because each morning I wake up with the thought,  “how can I change the life of at least one person today the way that my life was changed?”.

I can’t explain how lucky I was to become an exchange student. This experience opened my eyes to so many opportunities, which were invisible to me before.  Here, I have learned many ways in which I can help that I had never thought about before. This year has given me so many priceless experiences, which I really want to use to help my country and the world in general. I started to volunteer back in Ukraine, but the clear understanding of what volunteering is came to me when I become an exchange student in the United States. Here I have had lots of incredible volunteering opportunities that  really opened my eyes to the real problems in the world.

I want to tell you about one of my recent volunteering experiences. It was one of the most life changing moments in my life and it gives me chills even now when I just think about it. A small group from my church and I have gone on mission trips to the Native American church that is in the suburbs of Rapid City. We have been there two times this school year. The first time we went down there was this autumn and I left with tears in my eyes. We organized a Carnival for all the families but mostly for the kids.We served food to them, interacted with the kids. We played different games with them and had a drama performance. After everything was set up for the event, but before we started to invite people in, the pastor of their church told us about some issues which their community faces. He told us about  the poverty in which they live, the abuse which almost every child faces from their parents, about drugs, alcohol, smoking, early parenthood, violence, high crime rates and the loss of their culture. These problems sound pretty similar to what many people in our society face everyday. The only difference is that they have at least one of these problems, if not all of them, in each family. After we left their church, I couldn’t wait for our next visit.

Our second trip down there was on the weekend before Christmas. We helped their church to set up a Christmas celebration. We cooked traditional Native American food and had a special drama performance for them. At the end of it, we gave away presents. That was my favorite part of the trip. There is nothing better than to watch peoples’ reaction when they are receiving presents. I saw joy and happiness in the children’s eyes and a deep appreciation in the eyes of the elderly.When we started to clean up after the event, a little boy came up to me. He was really nice and polite but also really shy. He asked for a present because he missed his turn to get one. I walked over to the pile of presents and found one with the mark for his age group on it. When I came back to him, he was standing in the same place with a huge smile on his face. When he reached to get the present I saw a couple bruises on his hands. He said that this year it is his only present and that his parents usually don’t allow him and his sister to look at the presents before Christmas but he really wanted to know what was inside of that box. He ripped off a tinny piece of the wrapping paper and looked inside. His eyes became ten times bigger, and he started to jump, giggle and scream from excitement. “It`s a soccer ball!” he exclaimed.  He said thanks and ran away to find his sister and to show his present to her. A few minutes later, him and his sister came up to me. His sister told me that that was what he had been dreaming of for the entire year. They told me how much they appreciate what we were doing and how it is important in their lives. They said that once they are old enough, they want to help this church and do what we were doing. Never in my life will I forget those kids, and the look in their eyes. They showed me that what we were doing was important, and inspired me to work harder to come up with new and better ideas of how to help kids like them.

I am in that stage of my life where I should start to think about my career choice. After my volunteer experiences in the United States, I know that I have made my decision. My career choice is to volunteer. I want to be a volunteer teacher and open my own schools in areas where they are really needed. I want to help kids in underdeveloped countries to get an education. I want to give  them the tools which will help them to build a better future for themselves and for their country. They then will be able to  inspire more and more people to do good things, to help one another, and to volunteer.