Our United Way Youth Institute is a year-long program which focuses on empowering local youth at-risk, leading them to become successful in their careers, life-long community advocates, and agents of change. One of our missions is to expose our students to cross-cultural experiences and leadership development opportunities.
This March, our Youth Institute fellows had the opportunity to receive an eye-opening, multicultural experience while visiting the Dominican Republic. Students became fully immersed in local life and culture by visiting museums, tasting local dishes and participating in day to day life with the local residents.
They engaged in various service-learning projects allowing them to address genuine community needs. Projects included working at a local eco-farm and the DREAM project where they had the opportunity to participate various tasks such as painting benches, creating numbers on staircases for children, filling grow bags with potting soil, and cleaning up garbage and debris. They also had the chance to assist in molding bricks at a local artisan shop and making traditional dolls to sell. Students ended each rewarding day by working in groups and planning for their service-learning project to combat youth gun violence here in Miami.
In the end, United Way Youth Institute students returned home with more than just beautiful memories and cultural enrichment. For many, it was an impactful experience that opened their eyes to a world outside of their reality, giving them new perspective and appreciation of life.
Here’s what some of the students had to say.
“Throughout this trip I learned to always be grateful and never take things for granted. Going over there and seeing the way these people live made me realize how good we have it over here. If I had money I’d go out and help them anyway I could.”
“Everyone has their own perspective of a hard life or a struggling family. This trip opened my eyes beyond my own definition of these topics.”
“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
“This trip has made me realize the greatness of international travel.”
“To travel is to live. Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. “
“I learned that the people of the Dominican Republic don’t have access to simple necessities such as water and shelter. Education is not enforced and most kids stop going to school by the 8th grade. One bad crop and a household may not be able to feed their children.”
“This trip has given me an experience that I wasn’t expecting at all.”
“Everyone was friendly, money doesn’t bring happiness. Helping the DR really opened my eyes on how to be grateful for the opportunities I receive in the US.”
“Our trip to the DR was a great opportunity, and one of my favorite parts was when we learned about Dominican culture at the museum.”
“Really enjoyed my time there. It was a different experience, the sights were amazing, especially seeing the mountains up close.
“Live life and be open to learn and explore new things.”