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.