High school senior Laura Caram finds volunteering on a consistent basis, both near her home and abroad, influences her perspective on the world around her.
The Miami, Florida, resident stays active in school through four National Honor Societies and six clubs, while also demonstrating her leadership through Student Council. An avid writer, Laura serves as yearbook editor for her school. Additionally, her poetry collection, “solstice,” is now published and available for purchase through Amazon Books.
Laura attends Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, a Roman Catholic all-girls school. She said her Catholic faith “calls her to do as much as she can for everyone around her.” That has led her to become active in volunteerism early in her life. She said her school also has a certain number of volunteer hours required for graduation, but she often chooses to do more.
“I just love helping other people,” Laura said. “I love the feeling it gives me. It’s amazing being able to see how happy it makes others, just because of volunteer work that many of us are privileged enough to choose to do.”
CONNECTING WITH BRIDGE FOR HOPE
When searching for volunteer opportunities to fulfill her requirements for school, Laura said she came across the nonprofit Bridge to Hope in Homestead, Florida, an organization located near her home.
“Bridge for Hope works to collect food, clothes, books and just about everything people in need would require, and enables us to distribute it all to the homeless people of South Florida,” she said. “I’ve been doing that since freshman year. I try to go about once every month to help out.”
Laura explained the benefits of volunteering as a youth, and why serving should not be done solely to complete expectations for school.
“One thing that I find to be very important is that you can always change as a person, but the way that you develop in your teenage years shapes you for the rest of your life,” she said. “I figured that if I start now, I can only imagine how much greater it’s going to be when I’m older. The first time that you serve, you really realize how impactful it is for other people, so it just makes you want to keep on going. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.”
A SUMMER MISSION TRIP
Though Laura spends most of her time volunteering near her home, she participated in a summer service trip to Los Mangos in the Dominican Republic with BLUE Missions, a clean water charity.
“BLUE Missions is a nonprofit organization that originated in Miami,” she said. “They provide the opportunity for service during the summer with different trips for high school students, college students and people of all ages. Typically private school students participate in these trips, so I went with my school for about a week to the Dominican Republic.”
Laura said there are two types of service trips with BLUE Missions—clean water and sanitation. The organizers locate a city where students stay for eight days either in a local church, school or in someone’s home.
“I did the water trip and stayed in a local school,” she said. “We built pipes that went all the way from a local water source into a tank that distributes the water to every house in the community.”
Laura described her first day in Los Mangos and the shock she felt from seeing the contrast between the locals’ homes and her home in Florida.
“Our first day, it took us two hours to walk from Los Mangos to the water source, which just seemed really crazy to me. The people in the community explained to us that none of the women can go to school because they’re too busy getting water for their cooking and health and everything,” Laura said. “And when the women would bring water back to their houses, they would carry buckets on their heads. If they tripped on a pebble or something, if water fell, that was it. They just took whatever they had back to their house. Even the water the women were walking so far to get wasn’t filtered. Even though it was natural, it was still full of bacteria and dirt. I had heard about it before, but it really just felt insane to see and meet these people that were lacking a basic necessity.”
Laura said she felt startled by not only the circumstances the people in the community were exposed to, but more so by their positive attitudes in a situation that she could only see as wearisome at the start.
“We got there and we saw that they had cancelled school for all the kids for a week and a half because that was where we were staying, just because they wanted us to be there to help them,” Laura said. “They basically gave us everything they had. Every time they would eat, they would offer us some, and this is in a community that barely has any food, barely has anything! Even with the little that they had, they would always try to share with us. That was one of the things I was most amazed by.”
She said when her group first arrived, they were met with people in the community saying things to them such as: “You all were sent from God. We’ve been praying since we were born that someone like you would come here and we’ve been praying for you since we figured out that you were coming here.”
Laura explained how odd it was for the people of Los Mangos to place so much faith in her group, but also how much of a motivator their support was. She said that for the remainder of the trip her group worked diligently building pipes and trenches so the water could reach the community.
Not only the words of the community motivated her, she said, but also the people who joined her on the trip.
“We would often go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m., just because there was so much to get done. This was my first BLUE trip but there were some people there that had been going since their freshman year and this was their third. So on days when I was exhausted and just felt that I couldn’t do any more, they would be there encouraging me, because they knew the way it would all turn out,” she said. “One thing about BLUE and about service is that often, not only do you meet people that need your help, but you’re also surrounded by people that are there to do the same thing that you do. In a way, those people motivated me to keep pushing and working for the community because we were all working together.”
On the final day of the trip, Laura said the group learned whether their efforts were fruitful.
“Our last day, our ‘water day,’ we found out if everything we did worked or not. So, we turned on the pipe to see if the water would come out and it did and it was just so beautiful. Everyone in the community was jumping in the water and crying. I can’t explain the feeling it is to see people that have never had a faucet see water turned on for the first time. It was going everywhere, and they didn’t have to be careful with it anymore,” she said.
The true influence of her trip that she feels will stay with her forever became clear to her when she returned home, Laura said.
“For me specifically, after that water trip, I was met with a feeling of reverse culture shock. I kept thinking, ‘I have a toilet, I have a sink. If I want to make pasta, I turn on the faucet and water comes out. If I want to water the garden, there’s water in the hose for that.’ I feel that has been one of the most influential things that has ever happened to me,” Laura said. “I realized how unimportant material things are. I gained a completely new perspective on life. I saw how much happier people are in a place where they have little to nothing. It just made me really evaluate how I appreciate the material things around me, and how I treat the people in my life. It all just made me want to continue serving with BLUE and going on similar trips.”
THE BENEFITS OF HELPING OTHERS
Laura said the love and awe she felt when helping to provide that community with running water is something everyone should get to feel when serving.
“I think that volunteer work is important in every aspect. But I feel that when people start to do more and more service they find that they have a specific calling to one type,” Laura said. “For some it’ll be teaching kids how to read; for some serving in foreign countries or solving world hunger … but everyone should be the volunteer that they were meant to be.”
The toughest part for her when volunteering, she said, is understanding that she can’t always help everyone and do everything she wants to accomplish. Laura said it is difficult to know when you have done enough and realizes it is important to put limits on your volunteerism.
“Volunteer work is always going to take a lot out of you,” she said. “But the people you’re helping are giving to you in a way that you can’t receive unless you’re committed and willing to do service. You learn lessons, you meet people, and you start to learn a little bit more about life, all through serving.”
For those considering volunteer work, Laura said this: “Not everyone feels that they’re necessarily called to serve. Some people feel they won’t be good at it or that it’ll be a waste of time for them. But, what I would say is that genuinely, you never know until you try. Even if you do something one time, and you figure out that you don’t like it, it’s good that you at least tried it. You changed someone’s life. As little as it might be, every type of service that anyone does is going to have an impact on somebody’s life. There are many types of service. You don’t have to like them all to do it. And after you’re done with it, that happiness you feel from ‘I was able to help someone today,’ it’s just indescribable and you won’t understand the feeling until you try it.”