Love A Sea Turtle, Make A Difference

By Casey Sokolovic

Barron-Prize-2014-_CaseySokolovic2I started my organization — Help Them LAST – Love A Sea Turtle –nine years ago when I was 8 years old.  My organization is dedicated to preserving the world’s sea turtle population, inspiring others to become involved, and providing hands-on STEM focused outdoor summer camp experiences for at-risk youth.

Expanding my mission and continuing my passion has not been an easy journey especially in the middle school years. My peers did not understand what I was trying to do and thought it was weird that I was trying to save sea turtles. From my 9 years of conservation work and countless presentations to youth, I have learned that you must be willing to stand by yourself sometimes and make some sacrifices to do what you know is right and will help the world. There were times when I wanted to give up and stop my efforts, but I knew that I was making a difference in the lives of others and spreading awareness about the plight of sea turtles. I had to develop a thicker skin and keep my trust in God that He had a plan for me and that going through teasing was part of the trials I must overcome.

Soon, my classmates started to understand that what I was doing was making a true impact in the community and that we must help those who have fewer opportunities than us get involved. There are still trials and tribulations that I have to overcome daily, but that goes on in everyone’s life. High school presents new temptations and distractions, but knowing the difference from right and wrong, having a solid group of friends with similar beliefs, and maintaining strong moral values are extremely important in not giving in to these temptations. There will be many people who want to bring you down, but you must remind yourself of the kind of person you are and keep Jesus in your heart at all times.

 

Casey Sokolovic, 17, has been named a national winner of the 2014 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.  Each year, the Barron Prize celebrates twenty-five inspiring, public-spirited young people from all across America who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. The top fifteen winners each receive a $5,000 cash award to support their service work or higher education.  For more information please visit www.barronprize.org

 

How Far Would You Go to Make a Difference?

How Far Would You Go to Make a Difference?

By Shannon Hembree

How far would you go to make a difference? Would you travel around the world?

More than 7,000 current Peace Corps volunteers and trainees have answered that question with a resounding “Yes!” The reasons for joining the Peace Corps range from wanting to travel and learn a new language to seeking professional experience and adventure. One of the motivations shared by the returned Peace Corps volunteers interviewed for this story was that they were brought up in homes where value was placed on helping others.

According to Julie Ceigler, a volunteer who recently returned from Romania, “I was taught that working toward social justice and social equality was an obligation of all people.”

Peace Corps service requires this strong sense of dedication. Volunteers serve a total of 27 months and must learn to adjust to a language and culture that is totally different from their own. Caitlin McKee, a volunteer who returned from Guatemala in January, learned quickly just how different cultures can be. “I worked in an office of all young men. Not only was I a foreigner, but I was also a woman.” McKee said that it was an especially large challenge, because growing up in the United States, “You never think there are things you can’t do because you’re a girl.” When asked how she overcame this challenge, McKee replied, “You earn people’s respect over time.”

The girls who lived in the host countries, however, had far more difficult challenges. In addition to dealing with the problems seen in developing countries, such as limited health care, educational opportunities, and resources, they faced gender stereotypes.

According to Ceigler, “Teenage girls in Romania are definitely challenged by political and social apathy, and some may feel challenged by social standards to be a certain weight or look a certain way, or to find a boyfriend before they are ready. I think many girls, like girls in a lot of places, feel intense competitive pressure with their schoolmates.” Girls in America can no doubt relate to that, but other challenges may seem more remote.

“Girls [in Guatemala] are just expected to get married, raise kids, and stay home,” said McKee. These expectations were felt across many activities. According to McKee, who organized and coached a girls’ elementary school soccer team, “They hadn’t had organized sports for girls in that village (El Chol) before.” When McKee’s soccer team was invited to participate in a national tournament, it was one of McKee’s proudest moments. Although the team lost the first two games, they won the third game in penalty kicks – an achievement that had both the girls and their moms cheering and crying.

Peace Corps

Peace Corps

“National Soccer Championships”

McKee and Ceigler helped to empower young women during their service. When asked what advice they would give girls in America to help them grow into strong women, their replies focused on self-acceptance and confidence.

“Being yourself and being confident in whatever situation you are in is important,” said McKee. “You will be put down and challenged, and you need to have confidence in yourself. If you know and use your strengths, you can accomplish your goals.”

Ceigler also emphasized the importance of being confident. “The only way to be confident is by accepting who you are now – otherwise, you will always feel inferior to others…You are not stuck the way you are, and acceptance of life now doesn’t have to mean resignation. Sometimes what it takes to be strong is merely the understanding that even if the present situation is bad, it is only temporary. It will change if you work hard for change.”

Peace Corps

Peace Corps

“Ceigler in Romania”

You don’t have to travel around the world to make a difference, and you don’t have to think you are perfect (who does?) to be confident. Whether girls are volunteering as mentors, being mentored, or just living life, they are proving day after day that they are more than just a pretty face.

For more information on the Peace Corps, visit www.peacecorps.gov.