Raised in Houston, Texas, and now a student at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, 16-year-old Zoë Barron demonstrates the many benefits serving others can bring to the life of a young adult.
An enthusiastic and devoted student, Zoë transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy after her freshman year and is now in her second year at the boarding school. She said she enjoys spending her extra time on her artwork and with the many clubs she has become involved in since she first started at Exeter.
Because students are held to such a high standard at Exeter, Zoë said, “The only tough part when it comes to serving in my community has been finding the space in my schedule. Every day here is packed full of events or meetings or something else that needs attention, so sometimes it’s hard. But it’s always worth it, to make the time and get out there.”
VOLUNTEERING THROUGH SCHOOL
Through the Exeter Student Service Organization (ESSO), Zoë has become involved in many volunteer clubs and causes about which she is truly passionate.
“I volunteered through ESSO Reading Buddies, where I would go to the local elementary school and read to third graders, usually books on whatever they needed covered for school,” she said. “I also did ESSO Pen Pals where I would write letters back and forth to fourth graders.”
Through her volunteerism, she said, she was able to see the way in which she had influenced a young student when her pen pal sent her a piece of artwork.
“I had told her that I rowed on a crew team, and she ended up drawing this picture of the boathouse where I used to row,” Zoë said. “It was laminated and sent to me, and now I have this picture she drew for me, a sweet physical object to remember her by.”
Her own experiences with similar programs when she was younger helped Zoë connect with the students.
“I remember at my elementary school we also had a reading program, and I always looked up to the older kids who seemed so wise and knowledgeable. It’s really nice to go do that for someone else and be on the other side of it this time,” she said.
HELPING RESCUED HORSES
Another cause Zoë was able to volunteer for through ESSO was the rehabilitation of horses rescued from nearby slaughterhouses.
“I did ESSO Equine Rescue where we would help groom the horses that needed help getting back to a healthy place,” she said.
Drawn to support this cause because of her time spent with horses back home in Texas, Zoë said this volunteer work was some of her favorite.
“I used to ride horses a lot before I moved to Exeter. I grew up with them and it’s really great to be back near them,” she said. “Even though we don’t ride the horses, we get to take care of them, which can sometimes be even better. I’ve seen horses that come from really bad places, ones that are too skinny or limp a lot and just need some help healing. It feels good to know that I’m the one helping them get to where they need to be.”
Zoë explained that there are many opportunities for volunteering, but feels it should be for a cause of personal importance to the person who is serving.
“The things that I support matter so much to me because I can relate to them personally. I grew up with horses, and I participated in reading programs, so now I really want to be helpful and make a change for these things,” she said. “It’s very rewarding when you get to see the end product. When I’m reading to the same kids and I’m able to see how they have progressed, when I get to see how the same horses get healthier over time, it makes me feel very productive, like I’m not wasting my time.”
MESSAGES TO SHARE
Zoë said she feels very passionate about putting in an effort to improve other people’s days.
“In life it’s so easy to do random acts of kindness, just to drop a little compliment or say hello to someone, to wave at them when you’re passing by each other. I find that a lot of people dodge and avoid others, but it’s so easy to just squeeze in a little conversation or make someone laugh,” she said.
She said that often the routine of her schedule helps her to stay motivated and involved in her volunteer work.
“Serving on a weekly or monthly basis, it makes you feel like no matter what you’re doing, or where your life is at a certain time; you have something steady that’s good for you and other people–and maybe for animals, depending on what you’re doing. Returning every week feels better than, ‘well, I did it one time.’ It makes you feel like you can make a big impact,” she said.
Volunteering, she said, makes her feel useful and has changed her life and her community.
“It’s an amazing feeling when at the end of the day I can say ‘I really helped someone out today.’ It’s the feeling that comes with it that makes volunteering really rewarding. And, it’s given me so much more insight as to how easy it is to help others. Sometimes people make it sound so difficult, to reach out and go do something for someone or to help the community, but it’s really not. You just go out, and you do it, and it feels great. It’s never a bad thing to volunteer.”
Encouraging others to try volunteerism, Zoë said: “Do it first and ask questions later. It can be hard to make a significant impact when you’re young because you don’t have the privileges that come with being an adult in terms of your influence, but the fact that you can do anything is a privilege in itself. So, if there’s some sort of club you can join to volunteer through or some sort of action you can do to help someone out, take it. That’s an opportunity worth cherishing.”