Author: Audrey Sharp, Development & Communications Director
I sat down and Skyped with Penelope the other day to ask her about her experience with Outreach360. While we talked about all things Nicaragua, fundraising, and donating, Penelope was ironing fabric to create scrunchies she plans to sell to earn some money for her school costs and charitable contributions. Penelope studies Business at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. She volunteered on an Alternative Break trip with her school in March of 2018. Under the leadership of Spanish Professor, Cindy Lepeley, students from Heidelberg University have been joining Outreach360 on volunteer trips to Nicaragua since 2014.
Penelope originally hails from Medina County, Ohio. Like many of our students, Penelope has varied interests and has had a few different career goals in her young life. At the center of all her ambitions, however, has been an innate drive to serve others. “Coming to Heidelberg is what brought me to you, in a sense; that’s how I went on the Outreach360 trip. I’d say part of what drew me to volunteer is that I’ve always wanted to help people. That’s what I want to spend my life doing.”
After briefly dabbling in Software Engineering, Medicine, and Accounting, Penelope settled on Business with the ultimate goal being to start her own non-profit someday. “I never thought I wanted to be someone who would start a huge corporation or make a ton of money, but I love helping people and I love the nature of business,” she explained.
Another one of Penelope’s goals headed into school was to travel, which is how she discovered Outreach360. “When I realized, after changing my major fifty times, that I wasn’t going to be able to study abroad and still graduate in less than twenty years, I became interested in the Alternative Break trips, where you could take a school break to volunteer somewhere.”
With so many international volunteer opportunities available to college students nowadays, I asked Penelope what specifically drew her to Outreach360. “I was hearing about Outreach360 and how they go to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. I listened to past volunteers speak about their experiences and they both seemed like there would be a huge cultural difference and I definitely wanted to learn to become more selfless and let go of the things that I had learned to be normal here, but weren’t normal everywhere else.”
“Did you accomplish that?” I asked her. “It was an amazing experience. I went to educate the students but they don’t realize how much they’re educating us on humanity and life. They help us realize what we take for granted every day. Being down there really helped me to understand how privileged we are to have education not only be available but required. Education isn’t a burden, it’s something that is truly benefitting you.”
While on her Outreach360 trip, Penelope signed up to become a Touch the Future Sponsor. As a student sponsor, Penelope commits to donating monthly to our Education Fund in Nicaragua. All funds donated by our student sponsors cover the costs to run our Learning Centers, such as curriculum, staff, school supplies, maintenance, etc. “I’ve never really been called to give before. But when we had the opportunity to become sponsors at Outreach360, it was something I was already behind. I didn’t need to be convinced. I wanted to keep supporting the students even though I couldn’t be there.”
Penelope signed up to donate $10/month at first but then a year later raised her monthly donation to $25/month, the cost to sponsor one student fully. “It still doesn’t seem like that much. Considering how much I’m putting into my own education, I feel like I should be giving more. But I’m giving what I can afford now so that I can be done with my student loans faster, have a better future, and then be able to give more later.”
Beyond volunteering and becoming a student sponsor, Penelope has also participated in our newest program to support our students: birthday fundraising. With the recent growth in popularity for fundraising via Facebook, Outreach360 supporters have taken to donating their birthday in honor of our students. It was Penelope’s 21st birthday on June 19th and she decided to donate her birthday to Outreach360 this year. When I asked her what inspired her to do that in addition to everything she already does for the students in Nicaragua, she said, “I just felt compelled. I thought, ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t I do that?’ I might have only five people who give but that’s still five people who might not have given otherwise. I knew that giving my birthday could make a bigger difference than what I could do by myself.” Penelope ended up raising $281, all of which went directly to supporting the students in our Learning Centers.
It is an honor for us to be able to share Penelope’s story. She is a unique individual who continues to have an enormous impact in the Outreach360 community at a very young age. By taking on every available opportunity to support our students, Penelope is truly embracing our principle, “You are Outreach360.”
My final question for Penelope was, “What would you say to someone interested in getting involved with Outreach360?” To which she responded, “I would literally just tell them that they have to.”
To learn more about Outreach360’s student sponsorship program, visit: donate.outreach360.org/touchthefuture
For information on Outreach360's virtual internships, please visit www.outreach360.org/virtualimpact.