We say that LearnServe offers “life-changing” opportunities for high school students.  But what does that really look like?

We caught up with some of our alumni to ask how participating in LearnServe has shaped their futures.  We are happy to share with you reflects from 10 alumni representing the first 10 years of LearnServe.

Ethiopia 2004: Sebastian Martin

Three years ago, if you were to say “Sebastian, what’s the best way to grind coffee?” or “Which type of bean gives you the purest flavor?” or “How does coffee production impact communities in South America?” I would have given you a blank stare.  Now, coffee has become my life.  And it all started with a LearnServe trip to Ethiopia in 2004.

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China 2007: Oscar Portillo

Even though I was born in DC, I grew up in El Salvador until I was 16.  My parents came to the U.S. in the 1980’s escaping the civil war in El Salvador – but this is another story for another day, when I start writing my book.

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Fellows 2010, Zambia 2010: Tammy Bah

I had been to Africa before – my parents are from The Gambia in West Africa and my aunt works for the African Development Bank – but I hadn’t seen this Africa. This was the first time I actually felt like a foreigner.  While at the N’Gombe compound in Lusaka, I saw a lot more children than adults.  Children were taking care of children.  I smiled at every child I saw; when I looked into their eyes, I wanted to know their story, what they want in life, and where they’d like to go.

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Fellows 2010, Zambia 2010: Yasmine Arrington

When people ask who I am it’s like, “I am Yasmine Arrington, ScholarCHIPS.”  ScholarCHIPS is part of me.  My father was in and out of prison my entire life, and that had a financial effect on my family, as well as an emotional effect on me.  This demographic of children, and teenagers, with parents in prison – they’re unfortunately the forgotten, the invisible, as if they’re not important, or this is their destiny.

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Fellows 2010: Jessica Yang

Last Sunday I hosted my team’s weekly executive meeting over Google Hangout.  We talked casually, purposefully about each chapter of KAST – Kids Are Scientists Too, Inc., the organization I founded while in LearnServe – and our focus for Fall 2013.  As the founder and chief director, I am humbled to be leading such an amazing group.  Our team hails from 7 states, 11 high schools and universities.

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Fellows 2011, Paraguay 2011: Yoni Kalin

When is a crayon more than just a crayon?  It all has to do with the art of perception – the ability to look at something not just for what it is, but for what it can be.  Color My World began with a simple family visit to Outback Steakhouse, and the box of kids’ crayons they had placed at our table.

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Fellows 2010: Melanie Barlow

I love to dance.  I’m absolutely horrible at it, but I can’t help myself.  The other day, my mother walked into my room and found me attempting to dougie to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” We both love the song “Man in the Mirror.”  It has a message a lot like we’re taught in LearnServe programs.  MJ says we should make positive change in the world, but we should also take a close look at ourselves in the process.

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Fellows 2008: Daniel Casey

We had just painted a school building in a small rural village in Guatemala, and I was being chased by a horde of paint-covered kids.  I was half goofing off, and half actually trying to outdistance myself from the kids because I didn’t want to get paint on my still-clean clothes.  It didn’t work.  I still have the pain stains to corroborate the story.

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Fellows 2008: Richa Kalsi

I always intended to go to medical school. For a long time, though, my interest in medicine was purely in the science—it was incredible to me that I could use the science I loved to learn to make a difference in the lives of patients.  However, after getting into the social entrepreneurship environment, my motivations changed.  My first Fellows meeting back in high school was really exciting.  This was an opportunity for me to create and lead a program that could have a positive impact on my community.

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Fellows 2011: Julia Peck

We’re often told, especially during our childhoods, that anyone can go out and change the world. The immense effort, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and collaboration that social change requires is veiled behind the fierce positivity in that statement.  Because it’s better for people to think social change is easy and not hesitate to get involved. Right?!  Almost.

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