Why I Volunteer

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Thanks to a scholarship, this Florida Key Clubber traveled to the Dominican Republic. What she experienced reinforced the impact of service on both volunteers and those they help.

By Maria Estrada

Maria Estrada, a member of the Coral Gables (Florida) Senior High School Key Club, received a Key Club Service Scholarship from Rustic Pathways this year. Estrada used her scholarship to travel to the Dominican Republic, where she joined with other youth to help build aqueducts for a rural mountain community. She shares what she learned from the experience and why service is a key part of her life.

I have been in Key Club for three years now. Aiding my community alongside my peers has always been important to me: There’s just something about being able to make others happy through service that completes me. Being able to attend the Mountain Air and Village Service program in the Dominican Republic was a humbling experience that allowed me to completely lose myself in the service of others.

In the three days of work, we dug and pickaxed to install pipes that would bring clean and fresh water to 15 homes. Although coming together in a group and digging was exciting, the most rewarding part was being able to listen to the community members behind the project. I learned that the project we were a part of was something bigger than ourselves; it was affecting more than 75 people.

Conversing with 13-year-old Ulnefri and being able to have coffee with his family made the trip unforgettable. I learned all about their background and how they had grown to make Jarabacoa their home. Words cannot explain how rewarding it was to see smiles on the family’s faces. That feeling can’t be compared to any other emotion.

Furthermore, I believe experiences like these, that allow you to provide help to those who need it the most, are integral to every Key Clubber. Community service has no restriction to local activities; rather, it is meant to positively influence beyond the perimeter of your school and to help larger communities. An enriching experience like this allows you to apply everything you’ve learned in Key Club while immersing yourself in the beauty of diversity. Most importantly, what you bring back home has the most long-lasting effect in the end.

After visiting Jarabacoa, I would like to work with my Key Club and organize a drive to continue aiding communities in the Dominican Republic. The mark that this trip has left on me persuades me to be the best global citizen I can be, along with making sure that, as a Key Club, we are truly doing our best to help those we can reach. That is the magic in community service. I am extremely excited to be able to apply my global understanding in my club and implement a greater sense of service into all of our future projects.

Rustic Pathways and Key Club gave me the opportunity of a lifetime: A chance to passionately work with others and unite with other students to create a life-changing project. I left my program full of joy knowing that we had helped, but also eager to continue working with the community that had given me so much. Yes, we helped build aqueducts, but the experience taught us a true definition of what it means to be grateful and loving, an invaluable lesson that will always reside in me.

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