By Molly Friend

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Throughout the academic year, high school exchange students have been volunteering for CCI’s Greenheart Club and diligently logging their volunteer hours.  As a whole 227 members of the Greenheart Club logged more than 11,000 hours of service this year! Among the Club members there were 6 who stood out as extraordinary volunteers.  These six earned a prize to come to Chicago for the weekend to celebrate and participate in CCI and Greenheart’s 3rd annual eco-urbanite event called Living La Vida Verde.

The students ranged greatly in background and volunteer experience:

Gary from Taiwan has been living in Florida this past year. As a Greenheart Club member he made the most of this opportunity living in a rural community by volunteering on a farm and at a ranch to rehabilitate horses. Gary logged 291 volunteer hours this year. Gary told Greenheart from his experiences volunteering with animals he wants to become a veterinarian someday!

Khanh from Vietnam has been living in Michigan this year. Khanh spent 297 volunteering at a historic theater in her town. Khanh said she learned a lot and volunteering improved her exchange experience.

Ana from Moldova made a large impact on her community in Oregon as a Greenheart Club member. Accumulating 370 volunteer hours, Ana did a variety of projects helping others and the environment. Of her volunteer experiences the most formative was with an environmental organization called SOLV, Ana partnered with SOLV for a reforestation project on Global Youth Service Day. Additionally Ana won Greenheart’s National Essay Contest by writing about her experiences with SOLV and how she plans to help the environment when she returns home to Moldova.

Sabina of Kazakhstan brought her volunteering into her home in Idaho. Sabina volunteered as a foster parent to abandoned kittens.  She would care for the kittens for several weeks at a time preparing them to be adopted. She also did several volunteer activities with other exchange students in the area, in total Sabina volunteered 404 service hours!

Irakli of Georgia made a positive impact on his community in Texas and also at his high school. Irakli tutored students in science for one of his volunteer activities. Over the holidays he wrapped presents and collected donations to help children in need. He even got to dress up as Santa Claus for the fundraising event. Irakli was able to complete 464 hours of volunteer service.

Suleyman from Turkmenistan was the winner of the Greenheart Club by volunteering 536 hours while living in Texas. Suleyman volunteered at several places including a food bank, the Ronald McDonald house, and a Turkish cultural house. Of all his volunteer experiences he spent the most time working at an ESL program at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.  As the winner of the Greenheart Club, Suleyman earned a $500 grant to do a Greenheart project in his home country. Suleyman is considering using the grant to start and ESL program in Turkmenistan.

Over the weekend the students shared their volunteer stories with CCI & Greenheart staff, they volunteered at Chicago’s City Farm and participated in Living La Vida Verde. The students also got some time to explore the great city of Chicago by attending a White Sox baseball game, going to see the Blue Man Group perform, and visiting some of Chicago’s famous sights. But most importantly they were able to share their passion for volunteering for Greenheart and encouraged each other to continue service when the return home in  the next few weeks.