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Say It Loud, Say It Proud: You Are Outreach360

Outreach360 volunteers are the heart of the organization. Without their dedication to serving year after year, Outreach360 would cease to exist. We continuously tell our volunteers, “You Are Outreach360“. This principle sheds light on the motivated individuals who aspire to make a difference in the world: Outreach360 volunteers. The majority of labor and funds integrated into the program come from volunteers, and Outreach360 is forever grateful for their support.

Pictured here is Audrey Sharp, the Outreach360 Associate Marketing Manager, surrounded by Nicaraguan Learning Center students.

Audrey Sharp, Outreach360 Associate Marketing Manager, explains,” Outreach360 doesn’t exist without you. It just doesn’t. The hardest part of an Outreach360 volunteer trip is having to leave at the end of it. I remember coming back from my first trip with Outreach360 and feeling a little lost. I decided to start donating monthly to the program thinking that if I couldn’t be with the students then at least I could be contributing in my own way to their education. It wasn’t until I came on staff that I truly understood what Outreach360 had been trying to tell me when they said to volunteers YOU are Outreach360. The truth is that our donors are as integral to the organization as our volunteers and our students.”

Putting on the Outreach360 volunteer t-shirt further inducts you into the “You Are Outreach360” circle. Outreach360 volunteers are recognized by local community members in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. When volunteers wear the Outreach360 t-shirts, they are representing Outreach360 in the communities they serve. It is common for volunteers to be welcomed by a chorus of students and locals saying “hello, teacher” while walking through town. The Outreach360 name is as recognized as our volunteers.

“It is important to remember volunteers are not here to ‘help’ Outreach360, they ‘are’ Outreach360. Outreach360 relies heavily on its volunteers, and every single individual matters. Being a part of Outreach360 can and will contour your perspectives and inspire your knowledge of the culture and life in Nicaragua [and the Dominican Republic],” Adrian Nguyen, a former volunteer from Virginia Commonwealth University, said.

Outreach360 strives to make your volunteer experiences memorable. Outreach360 staff is mindful of your expectations. We are conscious of our volunteers’ desire to learn throughout their time in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.  Volunteering with Outreach360 will facilitate your development in the knowledge of a new culture, as well as help to improve your leadership skills. This growth all ties back into the “You Are Outreach360” experience. While “You Are Outreach360”, we know you are also an individual who is eager to expand their global awareness. Outreach360 will serve you to achieve your goals.

Outreach360 Leader Andrea Deleo Urcuyo teaches a Nicaragua Learning Center student during class.

Outreach360 Leader Andrea Deleo Urcuyo says, “The volunteers are Outreach360, and I can see that especially at the Nicaragua Learning Center. The volunteers share their love and their knowledge with the students. We remind the volunteers about the principles, like “You Are Outreach360″, during meals. We get to help them realize that they are Outreach360 during debriefs at the end of the day. The debriefs are a really a special moment where volunteers get to talk about the teaching lessons and the impact they are having on the students. Debriefs really help volunteers understand that without them, the Outreach360 program would look entirely different. We are so happy to have volunteers here because they are experts in the English language. It’s a great opportunity for our students and for children around the world to learn English.”

To learn more about Outreach360, visit this website: www.outreach360.org.

 

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How to Find the Right Service Organization For You

The service organization search can be overwhelming; however, with Outreach360 it makes for an easy decision. Outreach360 can calm all of your pre-volunteering-jitters by providing you with a safe and affordable service experience in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

According to BreakAway.com, there is a list of criteria that service minded individuals should consider when researching international volunteer programs. Their list evaluates housing standards, on-site security, program amenities, community partner connections, the capability to work with a volunteer team, language, the potential for long-term relationships, need, issue specificity, education and direct service, community development and sustainability, an intermediary organizational model, and reorientation.

We know what you are thinking. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Contemplating the items on this list is essential to ensure that you find a service organization that is right for you. Although this list is long, Outreach360 promises to meet each standard ultimately providing you with the best volunteer service experience in Latin America. Here is a break down of each criterion:

 1. Housing

Outreach360 volunteers share simple, comfortable rooms with modern bathrooms, and enjoy common areas ideal for relaxing or visiting with other volunteers. Meals are served at the Outreach360 volunteer centers and include both local favorites and North American classics prepared by our professional staff.  There is always plenty of clean, purified drinking water available. Check out some video tours of our accommodations here!

 

2. Security

Outreach360 volunteer safety is our top priority! We manage our own facilities and have full-time international and local staff leading our volunteers in each country.  They live and work full-time in-country, and facilitate the volunteer experience.  Working with people who live in the country where you are serving is key to ensuring your safety – they know the country, the community, and the neighborhood where you will be volunteering. Their first priority is your safety! We also orientate all of our volunteers on basic health, safety and respectful living guidelines that ensure volunteer safety.  We know that traveling abroad can raise some concerns but please know that Outreach360 considers all of our volunteers to be members of our service family. We keep our family safe and out of harm’s way during their stays in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

 

3. On-Site Amenities

Housing, meals, ground transportation and medical insurance are all included as a part of your minimum program donation with Outreach360. We employ trained cooks, drivers, and manage our own facilities to keep you healthy and safe.

 

4. Personality of Community Partner Connection

After over twenty years of working with students, families, and individuals, Outreach360 knows a thing or two about working with volunteer groups – it’s what we live for! We’ll do everything in our power to make it a powerful experience for you and the communities we serve. Our volunteers are affectionately recognized in the community and are embraced by community members.

 

5. Capability to Work with a Volunteer Team

Outreach360 has a well-trained staff of leaders that are accustomed to supporting between one and a couple hundred volunteers in a given week. We work hard to also accurately optimize the impact that each volunteer team has on the community. Many of our volunteer teams return year-after-year and we welcome them with open arms. We hope our program inspires large groups of volunteers to travel with us again and again.

 

6. Language

Don’t speak Spanish? No worries! Outreach360 is working with students in learning English; the more exposure they have to the English language the better! And, if you are joining us to practice and improve your own Spanish, there will be plenty of opportunities for that as well! Outreach360 staff members are able to communicate in both Spanish and English to support you with any needs you might have

 

7. Potential for Long-Term Partnerships

Outreach360 doesn’t just have a long-standing relationship with the communities it serves, but also with the volunteer groups that come down regularly. We are proud of the relationships we maintain with dozens of middle schools, high schools, colleges, families, and individuals. Outreach360 encourages volunteers to return to serve each year. The presence of Outreach360 volunteers alone in the communities it serves has had an enormous impact on local organizations, businesses, and cooperatives. We have partnered with local cooperatives and businesses for a significant amount of time to promote sustainability in the communities we are located in.

 

8. Need

Outreach360 works to understand the needs of each community where we are serving. We encourage all of our volunteers to embrace the principle Serve, Don’t Help as a guiding force in our programs. We work to implement our programs in a way that is in line with good sustainable development practices.

 

9. Issue Specificity 

The Outreach360 core purpose and the reason for Outreach360 to exist is to Release the Hero Within. It starts with Releasing the Hero Within the kids we are working with, their families, and the communities where they live. As we work to Release the Hero Within them, we Release the Hero Within ourselves, and within all the friends and family involved in this effort. Education is at the core of our direct service work. We believe that education is the most sustainable way to make an impact in the world. Through education, our vision is a transformed world where every person grows up to live a life of choice. We’re constantly striving to make the greatest and most direct impact possible through education.

 

10. Education and Direct Service

Although providing direct service is the primary focus of our volunteer trips, we also offer cultural and educational experiences throughout the week. Volunteers will participate in powerful, rich cultural experiences as a means to enhance their volunteer experience. Get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in which you will make an incredible impact!

 

11. Community Development and Sustainability

Involving and engaging community members is a priority for Outreach360. Many of our staff members come from the communities and countries in which we work, including our teaching staff, our kitchen staff, and community members hired for facility maintenance. Our volunteers are vital in providing resources, services, and a cultural interchange otherwise not accessible to the community. Outreach360 emphasizes the principle “poco a poco,” or little by little, to show volunteers that their week of service is an important link in a long chain of change and progress. Read this Outreach360 blog post to discover more ways Outreach360 values sustainability: https://outreach360.org/blog/sustaining-sustainability-outreach360/

 

12. Intermediary Organization Model

The communities Outreach360 serves and the organization itself are wonderfully intertwined. The organization acts as the medium through which volunteers make connections and partnerships with the communities in which they serve. An important balance of service, cultural immersion, reflection, and appropriate guidelines (highlighting health, safety, and respectful living) are all maintained and facilitated by Outreach360.

 

13. Reorientation

At the end of the week, your team will participate in an all group reflection about the week. We encourage all volunteer teams to take what they have discovered back to their communities, campus, and networks to expand on the work they have started with us. Reorientation is a powerful way to continue making an impact by spreading awareness of key global issues.

Click this link to learn more about Outreach360: www.outreach360.org.

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Acknowledge Yourself with Outreach360

Pictured here is Beth Anderson, n former Outreach360 Dominican Republic Site Director.

 

It is essential to the Outreach360 experience for volunteers to acknowledge themselves during their time with us. The ability to acknowledge yourself and the impact you have abroad will open doors to domestic and international service opportunities. This is why “Acknowledge Yourself” is the first Outreach360 volunteer and staff principle.

Acknowledging yourself can mean different things to different people. Beth Anderson, the former Outreach360 Dominican Republic Site Director, explains, “To me it means taking a moment to reflect and be proud of what I’m doing, knowing that I’m making a commitment not everyone is willing to do but then, once that moment is over, it’s time to get to work and serve. To volunteers, I think it holds a very similar meaning. On a more basic level just being proud of yourself and patting yourself on the back.”

Without first recognizing the steps you have taken to serve internationally,  the significance of your involvement in the education of our students will alter. The money, time, and the willingness to push outside of your comfort zone should not go unnoticed, especially by yourself.

Beth says, “I acknowledge myself in different ways, mostly through self-care: taking time to read or listen to music and taking moments to disconnect and be gracious with myself. In a more public way, it would be verbalizing what I am doing and just acknowledging it out loud in a conversation.”

Outreach360 wants to acknowledge our volunteers for the difference they are making in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Very few people are willing to do what our volunteers have done. Their dedication to raise or donate funds, take a week or more of their time, and give up other options to go to another country for the benefit of children in a community unknown to them is remarkable.

Graham Hunt, an Outreach360 Communications OLÉ Volunteer, states, “I suppose that when I think about the principle ‘Acknowledge Yourself’, I think about some of the wonderful moments I’ve witnessed in the classroom, in both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.  And then I think about all the many pieces that came into play to make those golden moments possible, from the hours spent lesson planning to the months of fundraising and preparing that volunteers invest to make their work with Outreach360 a reality.  This principle is about recognizing and celebrating that.”

University of Missouri graduate and former Outreach360 volunteer, Tessa Miles, overlooks mountains in Nicaragua while volunteering with Outreach360.

University of Missouri 2017 graduate and former Outreach360 volunteer, Tessa Miles, is a volunteer worth celebrating. Tessa has volunteered with Outreach360 three times, once in the Dominican Republic and twice in Nicaragua. In January 2017, she led a group of 18 classmates to volunteer in Nicaragua.

Here is what Tessa has to say about the Outreach360 principle “Acknowledge Yourself”: “To me, it means taking the time to think about what you’re doing here at Outreach360 and why your service is important. It’s realizing that you’re making a difference because you have chosen to be here, perhaps while overcoming obstacles that may have deterred you from volunteering. I acknowledge myself by telling others about Outreach360 and its mission, as well as my amazing experiences while serving with them.”

Outreach360 understands that many volunteers had to overcome fears and obstacles including exposure to a different language, not knowing anyone, only knowing Outreach360 from the internet, and potential parental concerns, etc. It is a big deal that our volunteers spend their time with us, and Outreach360 could not be more proud to shine the spotlight on the passionate people, like Beth, Graham, and Tessa, that allow our organization to flourish.

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Outreach360 Welcomes New Students!

Outreach360 welcomed 50 new students to the Nicaragua Learning Center on Monday, September 25, 2017, many of whom former volunteers may recognize as English language learning camp attendees. It is an absolute joy for Outreach360 to accept more students into the Nicaragua Learning Center program. The highly anticipated arrival of these new students has brought significant changes to our program. We are excited to announce that Outreach360 now has 20 computers for our students to utilize during class time. Softwares, such as Rosetta Stone, will be used to serve our students and improve their mastery of the English language. Outreach360 Nicaragua Learning Center students are thrilled with these new changes to our program and are looking forward to the future. As are we.

Here is an inside peek into new Outreach360 Learning Center students’ first day of class, as well as a glimpse at our senior students using the new Outreach360 computers for the first time!

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Caminos Volunteer Finds Friendship

St. Lawrence University Junior Ollie Smith interacts with Nicaraguan student at the Outreach360 Learning Center in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

St. Lawrence University Junior Ollie Smith traveled to Nicaragua in August 2017 as an individual volunteer with Outreach360. Ollie has volunteered with Outreach360 seven times since his first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2010. During the Summer of 2016, Smith participated in the Outreach360 Caminos program, which is an eight-week internship experience housed in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

What keeps him coming back to volunteer with Outreach360 is the memories and interactions he has with the students. Although the students inspire him to return each year, he is most fond of the Outreach360 staff and volunteers. The relationships that Ollie has built while volunteering motivates his passion for service.

“Obviously, I come back for the kids, but also another reason that drives me to come back is the people. What’s great about Outreach360 is that you meet amazing people, from kitchen staff to leaders. You meet new people every time. It’s amazing the connections you make here,” Ollie said.

Ollie taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. Ollie became close to these students as a Caminos Volunteer in 2016. Working with the students continuously for eight weeks allows Caminos Volunteers the opportunity to create long-lasting relationships.

The Caminos Volunteer Program boosts leadership skills in an unfamiliar environment. He became quickly attached to his new surroundings in Jinotega while serving as a Caminos Volunteer. Although he often felt pushed outside of his comfort zone, he felt rewarded in more ways than one, he explains.

Ollie says, “I like trying to learn from my experiences, good or bad, but working with the Caminos program was an amazing one. It helped me develop new leadership qualities in myself. Leading adults who are older than you, and kids who are tinier than you; it really builds your character.”

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for those looking to find internships in education. With Outreach360, Caminos volunteers take on the role of a teacher to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities.

“The students grow, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The best example of this is this one particular student at the Learning Center. As long as I have known her, she has barely said a peep. This year, I think, she has said more to me in one week than she has said in the 5 or 6 years that I have known her. She has really come out of her shell,” Ollie said.

Outreach360 welcomes Caminos volunteers, like Ollie, to serve in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic for as long as six months. The organization immerses Caminos volunteers in cultural experiences unique to Nicaragua.

Ollie mentions, “The Caminos program is the best way to spend the summer. You get to be really immersed in Nicaraguan culture and you get to know the ins-and-outs of Outreach360.”

More information about Outreach360 Caminos Internship can be found here: https://outreach360.org/volunteer/individuals-long-term-internships/.

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7 Ways Outreach360 Volunteers Serve Sustainably

When searching for a sustainable volunteer program, it is important to consider the footprints that the organization leaves behind. Outreach360 believes education is the best sustainable solution to combat poverty in Latin America and provide the children we serve with long-term opportunities to transform their own lives; however, we recognize that is more easily said than done. In order to ensure that our organization is sustainable in the communities we serve in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, we take measured steps towards educating groups of students who might one day take over our program, allowing us to pass on our teacher torches. Poco a poco.

Outreach360 recognizes that finding an ideal volunteer program that values sustainability can be difficult. So we decided to make it easy for you. Here are 7 reasons why volunteering with Outreach360 is sustainable:

1. We offer services, de-emphasize materialism. 

There is a subtle difference between serving and helping, one that can easily be misinterpreted. Outreach360 is in Latin America to serve, not to help. Our volunteers are directly instructed not to give away money, food, or drink to students or community members in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic. Outreach360 believes that education is the best sustainable form of service. With education, our students will be able to sustain themselves without help. These are not poor, sick, helpless people. Outreach360 volunteers share their strengths and blessings with community members, and they share their blessings with volunteers. It’s a two-way street.

2. We let the good times grow. 

At our two properties in Nicaragua, Outreach360 will be implementing projects involving sustainable agriculture. The agriculture program will provide an opportunity for our students to serve and learn. Students will have the opportunity to learn about agriculture by growing foods like bananas, avocados, and mangos. Outreach360 students can use this knowledge to plant their own gardens at home, providing their families with home-grown food and resources. The food production in our Agriculture & Sustainability Program will provide food to the Outreach360 volunteer program, to the on-site student program, and may be used to generate income for the local program.

3. We buy locally. 

Outreach360 embraces a farm-to-table philosophy. The food and produce that Outreach360 purchases for staff and volunteer consumption are purchased in community markets and stores where local farmers sell their food. Additional products that we buy (volunteer bunk beds, furniture, cooking supplies, etc.) are also bought locally. In addition, Outreach360 encourages staff and volunteers to support local businesses while staying in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

4. We hire locally.

The Outreach360 permanent teaching staff in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic is made up entirely of local community professionals. This is also representative of the kitchen staff at both locations. Outreach360 employs community members for facility maintenance and repairs as well. Former volunteers will affectionately recognize the Nicaraguan policemen that voluntarily escort them up Peña de La Cruz, a mountain located in Jinotega, Nicaragua that volunteers’ hike while staying with Outreach360. Whereas former Dominican Republic volunteers will recognize the local drivers that Outreach360 continuously hires for transportation.

5. We value direct service, not voluntourism. 

“It’s not about you.” The countries in which Outreach360 serves are beautiful and worth exploring; however, it is of the utmost importance to Outreach360 that volunteers understand that their time abroad is used to serve. In order to create a sustainable program in which students can become Outreach360 teachers, volunteers participate in direct service, not voluntourism. The impact that Outreach360 volunteers leave on students will pave the way for more knowledge and growth in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

6. We support local co-operatives and industries. 

Outreach360 collaborates and works with local co-operatives and industries to support local commerce and culture. Outreach360 brings volunteers to experience local co-operatives and a variety of other local industries. For example, Dominican Republic volunteers tour salt flats and have the opportunity to purchase salt farmed on the island. In Nicaragua, volunteers visit a black pottery co-operative where they learn about the process of making black pottery and get the chance to mold something of their own.

7. We want to pass on our teacher torches. 

Outreach360 Adelante Volunteers are returning students that have graduated from the Outreach360 English language learning program. Adelante Volunteers venture back to Outreach360 to teach new students. These individuals serve Outreach360 by creating a sustainable program where students become the teachers. In the near future, Outreach360 will be giving Adelante Volunteers and native teachers the reigns of our program, which will, in turn, allow Outreach360 to branch out to other countries in Latin America.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: https://outreach360.org/.

 

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College Student “Profits” Big from Non-Profit Work

College of William & Mary student Trey Mastaler reads with a Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

College of William & Mary student Trey Mastaler traveled to Nicaragua in August 2017 as an individual volunteer with Outreach360.Trey has volunteered with Outreach360 three times since 2016. He decided to volunteer with Outreach360 as an individual volunteer before the start of his Senior year of college. He says that he could not think of any better way to end the summer than with non-profit volunteer work with Outreach360.

“Outreach360 has given me such an appreciation for things that we have in the United States, like education that we take for granted. It’s also given me a second family. It’s given me friends in different places. It’s given me people I can talk to. That’s why I keep coming back,” Trey explained.

Trey taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. He taught lessons that engaged students in reading and writing skills. Together with his volunteer partners, Mastaler encouraged students to aspire to reach their full potential in the classroom.

Trey says, “Each time I come here, the students’ English gets so much better. When I see the looks on the students’ faces at the end of the week or when they are just grasping a new concept, that’s everything for me.”

Outreach360 welcomes individual volunteers, like Trey, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America. Each trip that Trey has participated in has offered new life lessons for him to take home; however, ultimately, he greatly admires Nicaraguans’ positivity and determination in the face of adversity.

“Being here and realizing how a lot of these people take every day as a gift and they say when something bad happens, ‘Okay. Tomorrow is a new day’. It’s an all-new perspective that I have had and that’s something I try to do now. If today was tough, I say tomorrow is a new day,” Trey said.

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for college students. With Outreach360, college students take on the role of a teacher to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities. Trey found himself pleasantly surprised that he enjoyed teaching younger students after his first experience volunteering with Outreach360. Having always imagined himself teaching at a higher level, he said that he felt shocked that he favored working with the students on basic grammar and language structure.

Trey enjoys the unpredictability of teaching as well. Although he admits that most lessons do not go as planned, he loves the challenge of working in an English language classroom. He recalls a lesson that he taught in the Learning Center about detective vocabulary terms. Despite not knowing what most of the new words meant, one student wrote an elaborate story about an international terrorist, completely catching him off guard.

It’s moments like these Trey looks back on and laughs. Waking up each day and not knowing how the day is going to go keeps volunteers on their toes, he explains. he would not want to volunteer any other way.

Trey said, “The opportunity to work with Outreach360 and be here in Nicaragua has been the blessing and joy of a lifetime. Every single day I think about these kids.”

Trey is already planning his next volunteer experience with Outreach360 for January 2018. He is looking forward to spending more time with the Nicaraguan Learning Center students, but he is unsure of when he will be returning to volunteer again.

“I don’t know if or when I’ll be back after this upcoming January. My God, I don’t know how I am going to keep it together when I leave. Jinotega might want to stock up on its tissues,” he jokes.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

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Family Finds Future in Volunteering Abroad

Canadian resident Lisa Gerrard volunteered abroad in Jinotega, Nicaragua in August 2017 alongside her children, Avery Kit, age 8, and Ryan Kit, age 11, with Outreach360. Lisa, a Criminology Professor at Algonquin College in Ottawa, volunteered with Outreach360 for the first time in Feb. 2014 leading 10 college students in the Dominican Republic. After volunteering with Outreach360 in 2014, Lisa decided to bring her children to volunteer in Nicaragua.

Ryan Kit, left, reads with Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua

“I was hoping to gain some time with my children, as well as a new adventure; doing something different, pushing them outside of their comfort zone, and seeing the lessons that we could take home as a result,” she explains.

Lisa and her two children taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. Lisa and her daughter, Avery, taught lessons to students about writing and reading. Ryan opted to teach interactive lessons involving movement and expression by honing into his passion for sports. All in all, each family member enjoyed teaching the English language.

Avery says, “I really did like the program. I really liked working with the kids. When I see them learning and trying to speak in English, it just makes me so happy to see that happen.”

Lisa Gerrard, left, with daughter Avery Kit, right, interact with Nicaraguan students in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Outreach360 welcomes family volunteers, like the Gerrard family, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America, while providing a safe and inclusive environment for volunteers of all ages. The organization immerses family volunteers in cultural experiences unique to both the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Ryan and Avery especially enjoyed exploring Nicaragua. They admit they were both nervous about being in a new environment but were glad that they had decided to volunteer as a family.

“It’s inspiring to help other people because at the end of the day you feel good and they feel good too. I learned that no matter where you are from in the world, all kids are the same,” Ryan said.

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for families. With Outreach360, parents teach alongside their children to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities. This opportunity opens doors for families looking to spend quality time together.

“As a teacher, it was really neat to see my children teaching. There is so much family time, even if we were just playing catch in the backyard, skipping in the front, or whatever the case may be. At home, we are so busy, riding off to football practice, or wherever we are going. With Outreach360, you are unplugged and it is just family time,” said Lisa.

She admits that she is already planning on leading another group of her college students to volunteer in Nicaragua; however, she hopes to continue to bring her family to volunteer with Outreach360 each year. Both of her children are eager to continue to serve abroad and at home in Canada.

Lisa explains, “I don’t know how we couldn’t do it again after doing it once and having exposed my kids to this opportunity. I think it needs to become a part of our regular routine.”

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

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I Started a Team From Scratch!

Penn State 2017 graduate Alyssa Gehman reads with a Nicaraguan student in the Outreach360 Learning Center located in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

Penn State Alumni Alyssa Gehman traveled to Jinotega, Nicaragua for two weeks in August 2017 as an individual volunteer for Outreach360. This was Alyssa’s first time traveling to Nicaragua as an individual volunteer, whereas in the past she has traveled with large groups of fellow college classmates. Alyssa has volunteered with Outreach360 five times since her first trip to Nicaragua in March of 2014. What makes Alyssa so remarkable is her dedication to volunteering with Outreach360, which ultimately has inspired her to lead large groups of Penn State underclassmen to volunteer in Nicaragua without administrative support.

Interacting with the kids is what keeps her coming back, she says. Alyssa’s experiences volunteering with Outreach360 prompted her to lead not one, but two volunteer trips from Penn State. Most notably in the winter of 2016, she pioneered a volunteer trip for 16 people from Penn State as a Campus Representative intern with Outreach360.

“It was like having a part-time job on top of school, on top of having an actual job, and on top of everything else going on, but it was the best thing I ever did. I loved it,” Alyssa remembers.

Alyssa was inspired to share the Outreach360 volunteer experience with her fellow Penn State classmates after having participated in volunteer trips with Penn State Altoona’s student-run service organization called Students Committed to Service. Although she had organizational support on the Penn State Altoona campus, that was not the case at Penn State.

Alyssa explains, “I started from nothing. I had no organization, had no funds, had no special way to advertise. It was all just through word of mouth and maybe a few posters. Somehow, after months of work, I had a huge group of 16 people willing to volunteer.”

Alyssa taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega during these trips. Her group engaged the students in creative lessons that encouraged the kids to get on their feet. Together, she and her Penn State classmates made learning fun.

The rewards for leading such a trip empowered Alyssa to become a leader on her campus. Affectionately known as the “Nicaragua Girl” at Penn State, she embraced her love of service by sharing her experiences with everyone who would listen.

“Realizing that I could do it by myself was amazing. I love leading other people, kind of being the ‘mom’ of the group, and sharing my passion. I’m so happy I got to bring a group down otherwise I would have had to go by myself or I might not have even gone,” Alyssa stated.

The best part about her experiences with Outreach360 over the years has been the number of forever friends that she has brought back home with her. She recalls a memory with her now best friends after they ran down the streets of Jinotega to get a smoothie on their last day in the country. They barely made it back to the volunteer house before nightfall, but the smoothie was worth the mad dash, she says. It’s simple moments like these that have brought Alyssa closer to her Outreach360 volunteer family.

Outreach360 welcomes pioneer volunteers, like Alyssa, to serve in impoverished areas in Latin America year-round. Alyssa says the opportunity to work with Outreach360 will push you outside of your comfort zone, but the trip is worth the travel. She hopes that other volunteers will feel inspired enough to lead trips of their own one day.

“Outreach360 has changed my life. I don’t know where I would be if I never came on this trip. I’ve learned so much about myself. I learned my purpose in life. I’ve met so many amazing people that I will probably be friends with forever. I’ve learned so much about what I want to do and who I want to be as a person after I came here,” she said.

More information about Outreach360 can be found here: www.outreach360.org.

 

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More Than Just a Field Trip in Nicaragua

As a Caminos volunteer this past summer in Nicaragua, I had the privilege of sharing many wonderful experiences with the students in the learning program. We shared a wonderful celebration of International Children’s Day with a party that included “pin the heart on the student” and salsa lessons, we shared the joy and excitement of seeing a helicopter fly over the learning center one day as we were singing songs at recess, and we shared endless amounts of laughter as the students learned what it means to hit turbulence. What ended up being my favorite and most cherished shared experience was the field trip to Managua that we took the children on towards the end of the summer.

These students have been in this learning program for three years, so at this point they know how things work. They know when we will have a celebration instead of class, they somehow always know who the upcoming week’s volunteers will be, and they know that every summer they get to go on a field trip. So, in the weeks leading up to the trip, they were ecstatic. They could barely contain their excitement. They couldn’t stay in their seats or pay attention to the lessons we planned, and all they could talk about was the field trip. Two days before, one of the students said to me, “Teacher Lucy, I know what I am going to wear; my Outreach360 t-shirt, shorts, my tennis shoes, a hat and my sunglasses.”

As an upper middle class American who attended a small charter school from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and was involved in many organizations apart from that, I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to field trips. Having been on countless field trips myself, and having taken the refugee children that I work with in the summer when I am home, I was sure that this one would be just like the rest of them. I was anticipating a quiet bus ride full of sleeping students, and a long day full of standing around listening to people talk while having to make sure bored kids don’t wander off. What I didn’t realize was that this was going to be a field trip unlike any I had experienced before, and one of the most rewarding days of my life.

We arrived at the learning center at 5 am, only to be greeted by the students in their very best attire waiting patiently, but excitedly, to get on the bus that they had been assigned to. The boys were fully equipped with mounds of gel holding their hair in just the right place, and the girls had all sorts of hair bows and clips, some even had their hair straightened. The bus rides did not include sleeping students, but students pretending that the two busses were racing, cheering for the bus drivers by saying “Si se puede!” or “Yes you can!”, and singing silly songs at the top of their lungs. This was all before 8 am.

What followed was a very long, very hot day of making our way around the city of Managua. We stopped at the airport, a retired airplane, walked through a historical plaza, went on a boat ride and finished the day with dinner at McDonald’s. The attitude the students had throughout the day was amazing to me. It was a smoldering day in the middle of July, and we were outside, many of the students were wearing long pants, but not once did I hear any of them complain. They never said a word about how hot they were or how hungry or how tired. They were all so excited and so happy to be there that they were content to just be, no matter the circumstances.

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how long of a day this was. We started it at 5 am and it didn’t end until 9:30 pm. That being said, it was also one of the greatest days I’ve ever lived. Being able to be a part of such an exciting day in the students’ lives and seeing everything we taught them culminate in something as sensational as being able to experience the things they learned about was something I would have never dreamt would happen before this summer.

The students’ excitement and curiosity could be felt by everyone around them throughout the entire day, and honestly throughout the entire summer. The growth that I saw in the students this summer not only in their English skills but also as people was incredibly fulfilling, and the relationships I formed with them, as well as the other volunteers, are so special to me. I know that after this summer, I have a second family in Jinotega that will welcome me back whenever I get the chance to return. And believe me, I will be returning.

As my counterpart Jessica Mathias so eloquently put it, “Jinotega is a home to me now. Come see why.”

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