Every single one of our participants have their own memories and experiences on NGA. For some, going overseas to serve was their most profound experience here, while others found their time working with thier fellow participants to be the most memorable. Regardless of when and where it might have been, they all have stories that they will remember for the rest of their lives - stories they'll be sharing with their loved ones someday. Although this is only a small collection of those stories, we want to give you the opportunity to hear them.
TESTIMONIES FROM FULL-YEAR PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS
Faith Bowman. Full-Year Program'09-10
I had a lot of trouble at the last minute deciding whether or not to even come to NGA, because I knew I didn't need a program to tell me I am amazing. I already know very well that I have what it takes to be incredible. So I came to NGA not so much for the purpose of learning, but for the purpose of unlearning: I needed to unlearn my habit of resentment, and i needed to break inhibiting concepts i had about myself, other people, and this world in general. NGA has done created the time and space for me to do all of this, but it also provided for me what I didn't know I needed... to feel what it is like to actually live amazingly.
Since the past September the NextGen Academy has, I would say, upgraded my life dramatically. In just the first week I was able to let go of painful grudges I had been holding onto more than a decade. In the first fundraising trip for our International Service Projects, I discovered disturbing thoughts running through my subconscious, negative thoughts that have been bringing me down for years and that I didn't always know were there. Once I became aware of all these things, once I was able to see clearly who I was in every situation, I was able to decide to change my mental habits. I still have to make that decision every day, every walking moment, and it will be a lifelong process. But in the few short months that I have been doing it I have seen astonishing results. I am still the same amazing me, but now I am happier and enjoy being happy! I have been able to start building up healthy love for who I am in every way. This let me stop thinking about my own insecurities all the time, and so I have also been able to open up my heart to others. I have tasted what it means to live for the sake of the ones I love and be the best I can for them. It is my new found passion, and I do it more each day.
I should also mention my refined understanding of God and the universe. Through all the workshops, all the adventures, all of the hardships and all of my experiences thus far, I have developed a much deeper understanding of this wonderful thing we call life. I feel more connected to the human race. I see the power my relationships with others has. And, quite a few times, I feel as though I have glimpsed the overflowing heart of God.
All of these transformations I pulled have myself through, all of the lessons I am able to draw from life and, most importantly, all of these beautiful people on the program I now hold so dear in my hearts, were brought together and handed to me in the environment that is the NextGen Academy. NGA isn't a pre-formed program -- it's not a system, or an unstoppable schedule of organized events. It is a title, a name for a group of amazing people who decided that society's standards today are too low and too limiting, especially for our age group. We achieve more, we dream bigger, and we do epic and noble things because we have the knowledge and the environment here to bring out our true selves. Like most people, I thought just being well adjusted means I was doing alright. But now, as I am I showing the world my original, unique self, I am truly living for the first time in my life. I can't wait to see what I will do next.
Haewon Macfarlane. Full-Year Program'09-10
Where do I even start? So many life lessons, experiences, challenges, struggles and victories happened within these short months, it's hard to just pick and choose a couple. Well, I know that when I came on NGA, I was insecure & shy, unsure of my faith and unable to express my true self. Heck, I didn't even know who I really was. I was dying internally until I came on NGA. From the very first day I knew that I was in the right place at the right time in my life to finally break free of my own chains & limitations.
You learn a lot on NGA, and I definitely learned a lot about myself. Fear constantly held me back, preventing me from taking the next step or expressing myself or truly investing in someone. Ultimately it prevented me from living the life I wanted to live. It was extremely hard for me to trust and be vulnerable. But, eventually I learned that the greatest service to the world is to just be yourself, and that a life for the sake of others is a life worth living. By breaking free of many of my past limitations (not all of them yet, though) and striving for a higher purpose of living for others, I could really find true happiness & ultimately God.
Many of my most memorable moments like leading a fundraising team for the first time really helped me connect to God and to others. Even though living for others is extremely challenging sometimes, and you feel like you want to just give up, it can be the most amazing & rewarding experience. I often get caught up in the situation I'm in, but it's not about the thing or the external situation. It's about your heart and motivation behind it. When I was a team leader, for example, I sometimes wanted to rest and take a break from investing in the team. However, by doing the hard thing and sticking to it, my team and I were able to make our goal. We worked every day, all day long, to raise the money for Africa. We supported each other through all the hard times, and as a united team, made our goal in the end. All that hard work & determination paid off.
NGA is great, but the coolest thing about it is that I can see myself grow. By consciously making different changes internally, I can see the results of more confidence and self esteem. NGA is conducive environment for growth, but you make the conscious decision to change. NGA is just a thing, all up to you to find the lessons behind it.
Anyways, the bottom line is, I wouldn't change anything that happened here for the world!
Heungkook Stephens. Full-Year Program'07-08
Before coming to NGA, I felt that nothing in my life was that challenging or that difficult. At that point, most of my life was high school, family, and extracurricular activities, and it was very easy for me to get by on just what came naturally to me without much effort. I could simply just kind of exist and it was enough to get by. I got good grades, I got along with teachers, I had a good amount of friends, if something was difficult I could easily just put in a little more effort or just avoid the situation most of the time. Nothing was really so hard that it really pushed me to become a bigger person.
NGA for me has been full of opportunities to see what I’m capable of. It has been an opportunity to raise the bar for myself, revealing how much more awesome I can be. On my year, I was challenged to create an international service project in Bangladesh with nothing but an email address to start with, I was challenged to raise money for my own projects, I was challenged to not only take ownership over my own life experiences, but also lead the experiences for a whole team of people as well. I look back on what I was able to do, and all I can say is, “wow, I can do that? What else can I do?” I move forward with the knowledge that I have stretched myself and overcome, and I like how it feels.
I’ve also come to understand what my heart is capable of as well. On NGA, I’ve developed a love for all types of people, from people I meet on the street, to people I meet in other countries, to even people who I initially couldn’t stand to be with. I’ve come to a point in my life where I want to help someone simply because I love them, and that’s it. No expectation of a reward like something to write on a resume, or even something to build a good reputation, I want to do it because I sincerely care. That has been a liberating experience.
These days, I just feel more alive because I’ve experienced what it feels like to be a better version of myself. I’m living with the knowledge that I am capable of so much, including accomplishing and living out my dreams. I feel like I am part of a great story, my story that is full of twists and turns, adventures, and awesome victories. I’m confident now that the person who I am has the absolute potential to make the world a better place, make the people around me feel loved, and to continue growing myself in every moment.
STORIES OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE
Ivory Coast, Feb 2010. Story by Faith Bowman "T.I.A." First impression in the Country
On Feb. 18th, Kristy Comey, Renee Shaw, Tatemoto Hayashi and I took 3 very long flights to make it all the way to Africa; about 5 hours from Seattle to Washington, DC, 8 hours across the Atlantic into Brussels, Belgium (the airport there was SOOO annoying-- they took Kristy's organic toothpaste) and another 7 or so hours from Belgium to a refueling point in Monrovia, Liberia. We waited there about an hour as the cleaning crew combed the seats and more people filed in, and finally it was about a 45min hop over to Abidjan, one of the capitols of Cote d'Ivoire. Hours in the air combined with what was typically a 5 hour layover between each flight made for approximately 30hrs of travel! Both Renee and I got swollen feet from sitting down so long in such fluctuating altitudes and temperatures, but all in all everything went smoothly. With the exception of the obnoxious security I mentioned in Brussels and some painful ear-popping sessions, there were no hiccups in our travels and everyone's luggage arrived at our final destination safely.
But speaking of fluctuating temperatures... AFRICA IS FLIPPIN HOT!! Everyone kind of already knows that, but JEEZ! "Team AJU," aka the administrative NGA team comprised of Ariana Taylor, Johanna Pecarsky and Jeff Adshead, is here visiting us first of the six different Africa teams. Even they, who have traveled across African and Asian nations within the past two years, agree that the stifling humidity and constant heat from the sun makes this the hottest place they have ever been. For those of you who don't know, Cote d'Ivoire is on the northwestern coast of Africa and is extremely close to the equator. It is this climate that makes it possible to grow so many cocoa and coffee beans... It is also this climate that often makes me want to shoot myself in the face. Or go ice fishing in a bikini. Yes, the ever-present, inescapable and suffocating blanket of heat is a frequent topic of conversation. That aside, Abidjan itself is not the stereotypical mud-hut-grass-skirt village most Americans picture when they hear the word "Africa." I would actually describe it as a mix of some back streets in Times Square and the inland suburbs of Florida, having been to both recently.
Like Florida, it has the feel of a city in a jungle, with palm trees everywhere, humidity, and wild birds and plants, but it also has the feel of a small space with a large population--a population of hard working people placed, by no fault of their own, into the midst of poverty. Oh... but unlike the states, everyone here speaks French and is black. Oh, and there is an extremely delicate and potentially violent political situation throughout the country, so people rule themselves by good manners alone and cops do whatever the hell they want (write completely uncalled for driving tickets ALL THE TIME).
Yup. That's my life right now. Thankfully, the Ivory Coast and AJU teams have a wonderful native Ivorian guide named Philbert Seka to take care of us. And, of course, we have each other. Our first full day in the country was Renee's 18th birthday, and it was also the day we got to hang out with Sotheca, a native song and dance group. They were AMAZING. We went to a dusty, traditional Cote d'Ivoire village just outside the city part of Abidjan, where we were introduced to all the elders and shown on display the whole time to the kids. By the end of the day I was 100% convinced that Africans are especially endowed, at birth, with an innate sense of perfect rhythm in both music and dance moves. Obviously the trained dancers were amazing, but here was a band of home grown musicians pulling complex syncopated beats out of their pure natural talent and practice--rhythms I only know how to do because of years and years of musical education...................!!?!?!!!!?!! .....IT'S NOT FAIR!!! Today was Sunday, and we went to church service, full of church songs revamped with SICK African beats (ALSO NOT FAIR). We were made to sing in front of everyone... it went rather well, minus the terrible heat affecting us a bit. After service we had some important meetings with Philbert about budget and schedule, and we also had an introductory meeting with a bunch of potential Character Education teachers. We introduced who we are and what NGA is and why we're in their country teaching their kids. I would say they took to us rather well, and we now know almost for certain where we'll be when, at which school doing what.
For the sake of keeping this from being any longer, I'll just leave you with saying tomorrow is our first official day of teaching. The four of us on the Ivory Coast team and Team AJU will be split up between two classrooms of university students-- approx.100 students total, from 9am - 4pm with a two hour lunch break. I'm kind of nervous! But I can speak on behalf of the team when I say it's a huge reassurance having the administrators here to introduce us to the country. I don't know what we would have done without them, and I wonder how the teams in the other countries are holding up.
à bientôt! (until next time)
Team Mocha (Ivory Coast team)
Faith Bowman, Kristy Comey, Renee Shaw, Tatemoto Hayashi
Okay, I don't know how else to say this right now. Sorry about the lateness, but when I was writing this yesterday the power went out and thus the team laptop died. Both water and electricity kind of comes and goes as it wants to here...
I am exhausted. The team is exhausted. Our guide, Philbert Seka, is twice as exhausted, Madame Doumbia (Mama Gloria) is gracefully fatigued, and no doubt, the administrators that are Team AJU are sleeping like logs in their hotel room near the airport. I will try to write as clearly and charmingly as possible about how we all became exhausted.
There are two key phrases foreigners must be well acquainted with before they set foot on the continent. Those are "T.I.A." or "This Is Africa," and "African Time." That is to say, if one wishes to attempt to get anything done ever on the continent of Africa, one must be willing to accept everything going wrong and no one to doing what they say they are going to do, because essentially, that is what happens every single day. It's just an unavoidable fact; the things that make Africa what it is are so deeply rooted that until the centuries it may take to change it pass you can't do anything but cope while living here. It's Africa. It's unpredictable and pretty messed up. Get over it.
I mentioned at the end of our report three days ago that Monday was our first ever teaching experience at an African school. There are hundreds of things about that day that would piss a regular American off. Most of them are caused by the transportation system: to use the New York analogy again, picture typical Manhattan pedestrians. They cross the streets wherever they want to, whenever they want to, and as long as they don't get hit by a vehicle that's moving too fast there's nothing wrong with that. Now, imagine an extremely cramped, extremely humid, jungle-like land where all pedestrians....and all the drivers of the cars have that same mentality about road rules. That is the driving in Africa. There are no rules. Except maybe one: don't die. No one wears seat belts--most of the time the belts in taxis and rental cars are pinned behind the backseats and the buckles are removed completely. Buses will take literally more people than the vehicle was designed to carry, with people holding on to something/someone inside and leaning out the open door. Not only are there no road rules, but in places inside and outside the city, there are no roads.They just stop. These bumpy dirt paths mess up axles real fast and cars break down in the middle of freeways all the time. Cars are constantly breaking down. TIA.
Thus far I have observed that it is this crazy maze and gamble with our lives we play to get from point A to point B that makes it next to impossible to be a person of integrity. "African Time" is what white people call the mutual agreement of everyone here that it's okay to be late to everything, because This Is Africa. With that in mind, the four of us on Team Mocha, Team AJU, our good friend Madame Doumbia and our guide Mr. Seka strolled into the school an hour late and it was perfectly acceptable.
The principal was happy to see us and gave us a wonderful welcome. Rev. Doumbia, Madame Gloria Doumbia's husband, has been trying to start Character Education at some schools already and is very good friends with Alfred Babli, the founder and head master of the community college we taught at that morning. He absolutely loves and admires us for our work. He brought us into his air conditioned office and talked animatedly about how much he loves Mr. Doumbia, how much he appreciates what we do, and how much he wants to welcome us into his country. He discovered Team AJU was leaving within a few days, so he promised to feed us traditional Ivorian food and make Uncle Jeff an Ivorian chieftain, with a whole ceremony and everything. I've always thought promises like these were merely formalities--things you don't really mean and just say to welcome and impress guests. But as it turns out... everything he promised came true and then some:
- Successful first teaching experience with team split between two classes of at least 50 students. Lunch with principal Babli and school staff, and at the end of the classes a school photo outside, where students swarmed us before we left for our phone numbers and email addresses.
- Returned to same community college for a smaller class of different students (the whole team Mocha taught one group this time. Most students were told to stay home and classes ended at noon all because of the tense political situation--an announcement of some kind was coming up that could have potentially made neighborhoods violent)
- We were all brought to principal Babli's house, where he stuffed us for hours with an ungodly amount of delicious and exotic Ivorian food, in multiple courses.
- We drive to an outdoor restaurant of sorts and meet with students from his school there. The idea was we would socialize and have some drinks while we waited for them to make a special fish recipe, only found in Cote d'Ivoire, but we had to leave after an hour or so because...
- We met with the Council of Chiefs and the Grand Chief of Africa at his expensive Villa in another part of town.* We spent a few hours being introduced to the council, being personally thanked by the Grand Chief for everything that Uncle Jeff and NGA is doing for the children in his kingdom, and learned some history about African society. We also made lunch plans for the following day, so that they could make Uncle Jeff an Ivorian chief (the equivalent of giving him "the key to the city") and also give him a message of some kind that he can now show to the chieftain of absolutely any nation's major chief that will tell them to support him and show him the best hospitality. He gave him the contact info of the the chief in Uganda, the country Team AJU is traveling to now.
*Some explanation: Since the beginning of history in Africa, there have been native tribes ruled by their own chiefs, the borders of said tribes having nothing to do with the borders of the current nations that were originally established by European colonies only a few hundred years ago. In 2001, chieftains across the continent of Africa created the Council of Chiefs, and crowned one man to be the Grand Chief of the entire continent. They thought a more organized and active traditional council would help stabilize communities.
That's right. We met His Majesty, the Grand Chief of Africa..............!!!! :D
- Renee, Tatemoto, Johanna and Mama Gloria went to another school (one of the top engineering and business colleges in Cote d'Ivoire this time) and rotate between three classrooms, teaching for 30min each time. It was stressful to organize, because plans had to change after we were invited for lunch with the Grand Chief, but the teaching was still enormously successful.
- We left from school to a comparatively brief but elaborate lunch at a ritzy restaurant on the city's lake with the chieftains and the Grand Chief. Uncle Jeff dress up with their gifts, a chieftain's stick and full traditional robes (including sandals), and is titled "Nana Abuja Jeff", or Father Chief Jeff in native Ivorian language.
- We all quickly drive back to the school and formally meet the director this time as a large group. Everyone then heads down to the cars, Team AJU leaving for the airport with Mr. Seka and Team Mocha leaving with Mama Gloria and the director for a "celebration" and some dinner (aaaaah! more food! DX ). There was extensive hugging before the final AJU and Mocha separation. We won't be seeing any more familiar Americans until our month here is over. - We drive out to what the Ivorians describe as the "suburbs," and what I would describe as a jungle version of very old-fashioned countryside living. We ate and talked with the teachers from the college at an outdoor restaurant/vacation spot. We sat in the shade under party tents that were locally hand made with carved branches and flattened, dried, palm tree ferns.
phew. What a three days. I also need to mention that every where we go, every gathering we attend, at least 5 or so Ivorians inevitably whip out their cell phone cameras, their actual cameras and/or video cameras and follow us everywhere. A few newspaper reporters were invited to the engineering college on Wednesday and always obnoxiously walked into the classroom in the middle of my talk and stood right in front of me to film me, completely blocking my view of half the audience. At one point I humorously but also legitimately shooed them back out the door as soon as they came in and scolded them for being so obtrusive.
I'm so sorry this is extremely long, but... what can I say? We're pretty much celebrities here. I have to give it to Mr. Seka, he is so responsible and works so hard and has so many hook ups with important figures that we have a completely and 100% packed schedule from now until we leave. To get back on track with the reporting, I'll be making another one of these the day after tomorrow.
Stay tuned! With lots of love and until next time!
Goodness. Well, as you have already read, the last report and those three days were pretty intense. It was an amazing experience, although obviously quite stressful as well. Thankfully, our schedule has been gradually slowing down since then. It was pretty clear to Mr. Seka that we all would not be able to keep such a killer pace for so long.
- Renee was suddenly stricken with a queezy stomach and headache that morning, and the team pretty much had to force her to stay home and rest all day (she hates doing nothing!). Without the help of medicine she recovered pretty much to full health by the next morning, although she still says she feels funny every time she eats.
- Tate, Kristy, Mr. Seka and I taught at a junior high school in a poorer area of town. It was the first we had talked to almost a whole student body at the same time--about 150 kids came to see us present on the covered roof of the building--as well as our first time teaching to people younger than college age. There were 12 year olds in the front row looking up at us, and 18-19 year olds watching from the back. Kristy had volunteered to give the main talk that day, and also decided to test out a new purity talk.
- We also met with Jin-A private school, a small school teaching preschool - 12th grade on an American system and mostly in English. They have arranged for us to teach and spend all day at the school on March 9th. We won't need translators to talk to them! And we get to hang with 4 year olds! I'm so stoked. - Mr. Seka took us outside to "exercise a little bit".... THAT ended up being a 4 hour adventure walking/jogging/running to a different part of town, taking some time to visit an old friend in a Jesuit seminary he suddenly remembered he wanted to talk to, and walking back exhausted in the dark. Good times...psych.
- Friday was a muslim holiday, so there were no schools in session and our schedule was very free. We were invited to give a talk specifically about leadership to a non-government organization (NGO) and were personally escorted to the building by the president of the organization. They set up a formal table and introduction for us, with microphones and a podium to use like at the UN. We made them stand up and do a human knot! hahaha It was very successful. It was the first time we'd ever done a talk about leadership like that. - Right after the NGO talk we went to a university and met with a club of students who were all preparing to leave soon to Bridgeport University, in Connecticut. We didn't know until we arrived, but they pretty much just wanted us there to give them inspiration and tell them about life in America. Good times. Awkward and funny, but good.
- We.... DID NOTHING! yaaaaay. We all watched the movie Avatar for the first time; it was a bootlegged version on Seka's laptop. Oh, except Tate, because he was watching 300 on his laptop. We went out for ice cream! And we stayed up late watching Avatar, the animated TV series. Very confusing, I know, but it's a completely different story and it's very good.
We had a team meeting with Mr. Seka about our schedule and such, and this next week we will not be doing any teaching. Instead we're focusing more on cultural exchange-- we'll be living on a farm in the countryside and learning about life there, as well as taking a day to paint a classroom. Personally, I don't know how I feel about this... I don't have much time to journal, and I think now that we're done meeting kings and hopping from school to school I have time to realize I'm not adjusting very well. We've already been here a week, and I'm still under a lot of culture shock. Part of me doesn't want to melt into the culture here... I've never really connected with or understood Africa before now, and I'm pretty much only in Cote d'Ivoire because off NGA. Maybe spending time with more average Ivorians will give me some insight... I know the rest of the team's excited.
Justin Taylor. Connections Workshops'10
Connections Workshop, Man Day Testimony
During our recent Connections Workshop, the girls and guys were split up for two days to focus on the unique aspects each gender has to offer the other and in turn, the world. For us, those two days were quickly dubbed Man Day. NextGen Academy is all about challenging ourselves to uncover the authentic people we really are. Man Day was an extension of that idea and was designed to empower the guys of the program to step up.
Much of Man Day was filled with intense physical obstacles, which was great because it established a common base of struggle and determination that each of us could relate to. All men, on some level or another, are beings of action and so by overcoming challenges together, our group of guys became brothers. By the end of just the first day, each one of us felt a real sense of connection with one another. One thing I realized from these activities is that gaining the support and validation of other men is an important step on a man‘s journey of self discovery. Being a true man, however, means more than just gallivanting in the woods. Adventure is good, but purpose is also necessary for manly fulfillment and the rest of the workshop was spent addressing that issue.
All of our lives, we had been told what it takes to be a man by our peers, strangers, and the media. We were looking far and wide for an answer that was actually very close. Our fathers are meant to be the original source of manhood, who as kids we revere and anxiously await the day we are bestowed a seat at the men's table. For me, this was a very big realization and it led me to reexamine my relationship with my dad. I had allowed my image of what a father should act like became distorted by all different media so that I became unable to recognize my father's efforts to engage me in his own, unique way. Man Day showed me that I am the one who needs to make the first step in creating a real relationship with my dad.
Following the talks and discussions on the value of fathers, Man Day refocused to show us the value and importance of women in life. Men were created to be strong, not just competent for our own sake, but rather to have the strength to support and protect the ones we care about. On NGA, the ones who need our strength and support the most are the sisters. Girls grow up with their own questions and vulnerabilities and Man Day confirmed within us that it is our duty as their brothers, to alleviate those doubts.
At the end of the second day, everyone met back up and we put on a commitment ceremony for the sisters where we pledged to protect the beauty and heart as brothers. It felt really great to end Man Day by acting to answer the question "Do I have what it takes", and realizing that I do have what it takes to be there for others.
TESTIMONIES FROM ALUMNI
Mike Perkins. Full-Year Program' 08-09
To say NGA has “impacted” my life would be a gross understatement. Try “started”, and you’d be getting warmer. I think the two biggest ways the program changed my life are these:
1) It helped me create and experience real, genuine relationships that I know with certainty will last forever. Who doesn’t want that?
2) NGA taught me how to dream.
I had good relationships at home, but none, including family ones, were as deep or heartistically open (what I call “real”) as the ones I developed during that year. I honestly feel that I was allowed to see their true selves – in all their downplayed glory, and I in return cautiously showed them mine (kinda taking a first good look at it myself, too). The results were incredible, lasting bonds that were more like family than friendship. The coolest part however, and I believe this is key, is that since then my relationships outside of NGA, both new and old, have become more real as well. It’s a part of my system now, to seek out that genuine person hiding behind each face I get to know. To sum it up: NGA introduced me to the awesome power and unequaled joy of real relationships, and gave me the desire and ability to create more of them in the other areas of my life…so far with amazing success. NGA also awakened me to my biggest dreams…which conveniently lay right behind my biggest fears. Good times. Anyway, the point is that I learned how to truly believe in something, and go for it. The truth is there’s no limit to what a small, passionate, and dedicated group of people can accomplish. As time and time again I watched the impossible, the ridiculous, and the extremely-unlikely take place before me, I realized that my life had to be for something BIG, like living without fear, or raising a solid family, or becoming an engineer who could return to Africa and help people. Now I’m studying civil engineering because it fits best with these risky and challenging goals. It’s tough though; daring to dream is like calling your shot – everyone will know if you miss. There’s no “…I meant to do that.” But NGA showed me how to believe; that when you do make that shot, and you will, it’s beyond worth it. So here I am, embedded in the journey, and life has never been better. Eightball, corner pocket.
-- Mike Perkins, Age 21?, New York
Faith Bowman Full-Year Program' 09-10
When I signed up for the NGA full-year program, it was very important to me that everyone clearly understood I did not need the program to make me an amazing person. I didn't need to be preached to, I didn't need catch phrases and popular self-help books crammed down my throat; I was fine the way I was. I just wanted a year of travel and service with great friends. I wasn't going to change. ...By the end of the first week, I had already 1) bawled my eyes out, 2) told myself I wanted to quit and go home, and 3) let go of the largest emotional burden I had been carrying around my whole life. Within seven days, I was not only a changed person, but I had taken the first steps to developing habits that are now the most valuable assets I posses.
To be surrounded by a group of passionate individuals, each committed to becoming the best person they can be every day, is a rare gift. It created the most nurturing, open, and loving environment I have ever experienced. It allowed me to feel safe while examining those vulnerable parts of me I had been ignoring and covering up for so long. And together, as a family of participants, we supported each other through the many terrifying challenges presented to us, that by the end left us astonished with ourselves and tangibly empowered. I would not trade my year with NextGen Academy for anything. Because even though the group of us are all doing different things in different places, and the people I encounter everyday now can be-- well, MUCH less than "encouraging," I have retained the perspective of myself and the world I developed while in Seattle.
Very soon after my year was over, I moved by myself from my hometown, Portland, OR, all the way to NYC. But a week after landing at JFK and starting a comfortable desk job for my church's national headquarters, I was informed one day that my position had just been dissolved. Funding was short, so I was no longer allowed to be employed at this time-- which also meant I was no longer allowed to live in the housing reserved for church employees and interns. It was a huge misunderstanding, and very abrupt. In about seven days I had 1) left behind all of my family, friends, and my familiar west coast culture, 2) found myself with no source of income and a few hundred dollars to my name, and 3) was left without a welcome place to live. In all areas, I had nothing except my health, and my remaining vision to make a life for myself in one of the greatest cities in the world.
Needless to say, the weeks that ensued were some of the most stressful and traumatic of my life. But six months later, I'm still here. I'm comfortable, happy and am completely self-sustaining with a nice job in midtown Manhattan, sharing an apartment in New Jersey with an older sister of a friend from NGA and another girl I knew from my local church back in the North West. I was faced everyday with challenges and decisions that tested my maturity, moral strength, commitment to my goals... my core. And I'm proud to say that my upbringing combined with the habits and perspective I learned on NGA pulled me through: Instead of diving into the lives of the few people I knew in town to distract myself from my pain, I reached out to my friends from NGA, specifically utilizing the email forum between alumni called Continuum. The emotional and practical support I received in response was amazing. Alumni from more than three years before me were calling me with advice and job leads. My email inbox and facebook page were awash with messages like "You are amazing," "you truly inspire me," and of course "I LOVE YOU! YOU CAN DO THIS!" I continued putting into practice everything I'd trained myself to do during the past year, and remembered that if I could do all the crazy, incredible things I'd done last year, I could handle this alarming situation. So even in my most desperate hour, I remembered to expect miracles. To spring into action before I talk myself out of a great opportunity. That God will never give me more than I can handle. To love like I've never been hurt. To persist, persist, persist no matter what, period. Because investment is never, ever wasted. But most importantly, my strength has been my determination to always be learning. There is no such thing as standing still. You're either growing, or you're dying slowly.
I can say now, with confidence, that I am comfortable with being uncomfortable. Difficult circumstances are no longer painful barriers, but opportunities to grow. I am truly living life, becoming exactly who I want to be and doing exactly what I want to be doing, because my default setting is success. I love who I am and how I am able to freely love other people. The realization that there is absolutely no limit to what I can achieve here and now--that the single thing drawing the line is ME... is almost too amazing for me to grasp.
- Faith Bowman, Age 19, Beaverton, OR
Inhwa Hendricks Full-Year Program' 09-10
Sorry this is taking so long.. I wrote this like 3 times and ended up deleting them all cuz I wasn’t satisfied.. and I’m a terrible writer so please bear with me.
I felt like I was sugar coating so many of my ideas or whatever-making everything sound so perfect and amazing.. it’s not like im struggling so much right now, but idk, I feel like im challenged a lot, and so many things that I thought I overcame on nga like keep coming back, idk its hard to explain. I guess I realized that growth is a process..and im not as strong or as big of a person that I thought I was right after nga. Anyways, what I can think of right now is that nga has helped me to just do things. Before NGA, I was always surrounded by fear, you know the usual “what if I fail” or “I’m not good enough”. Now, those aren’t the questions I ask anymore. I just think, “ok, I guess I’ll find out if I fail.. doesn’t matter because everything is a learning experience.” I really learned to love people and accept people for who they are. I realized that by loving people you are loving God, and everyone has a piece of God’s heart that you won’t be able to discover unless you connect with that person. I definitely am more laid back now, and realize that not everything is up to me- sometimes you have to just go with the flow of things. Africa was amazing, I was able to really connect with God’s heart in a way that had never happened to me before. I felt God speaking directly to me, and I felt his intense parental heart for me. Bungee jumping was so liberating, and I felt so great because I truly went past all my fears and did it for a higher purpose. NGA truly taught me how to connect with people deeply. I have made life-long friends on NGA, friends that I know will absolute certainty will be there for me no matter what. Sisters who I know I can call anytime, even ten years from now. It created a sense of community for me, an extended family.
I tried making it sound all professional—but I just couldn’t do it, so heres what I wrote..as if the computer screen was my journal and those are my true thoughts...
Matt Hill. Full-Year Program'08-09
I just moved into my dorm, and I am LOVING LIFE! I can honestly say that a huge and large part of it (if not the only) is because of the person that I was able to become during my time on NGA. This might take a while to read because I have so much to say!
Who am I?
What is my relationship with God?
What kind of culture do I want to create?
These four questions I can definitely say I have a much more solid answer than before I went, and I just want to share some of what I've learned and am applying right now in my life.
Who am I? I am Matt Hill, son of David and Kathy Hill, blessed central family AJU! Or just Matt Hill for short. But really, I had asked this question so many times, but it was on NGA that I really started to ANSWER this question. I've certainly asked it a bunch, and now, I feel like I have a better grasp on who I am, but really, words do not do myself or any other person justice; a person can't just be explained in words. A person is ever-growing, constantly learning, and always in a state of change. On NGA, I wanted so badly to understand who I was better, and throughout NGA, I was growing and learning--in fact, I still am. But on NGA, I had so many Aha! moments. I was just going through my journal and let me read you something I wrote from our first condition:
"I realized today that in order to have more fun, more joy, be present and live, [I] have to make a conscious decision about it." I am in control of my own life. I choose my reality, and right now, I am choosing JOY and LIFE!
I am a person who's not afraid of what others think. Even though I might be afraid to do something, I do it anyways. I take challenges as opportunities. Yesterday, there were these big huge dudes playing frisbee, and they looked way bigger than me and my room mate (who were walking around looking for something to do). I told Tim, my roommate, "Let's go ask if we can play."
He said, "No way, they look way bigger than us and probably won't let us play."
"So what? I bet you they will let us play, and who cares if they're better than us?"
Then, I ditched him to go play knowing that he'd follow along. Sure enough, they let us play and were happy to have us.
It's just simple things like that. Or later, I went to the pool, and I was really afraid of jumping of the diving board, so I got up on the diving board and did a flip. Of course, I over-rotated and landed on my face, but I survived and did it again. I go up to people I see all around campus and proudly introduce myself. NGA has taught me to go for things, to not listen to that dis-encouraging little voice that says "you can't", and NGA told me "you can."
Stephen Covey has been telling me to write a mission statement since I read his book in Africa, and I've been putting it off/working on it, and finally I've come up with something that I like. It can change, it's flexible, but it's something I really want to live by, and it's because of NGA that I've been able to figure all of this out.
I challenge myself everyday to be a leader (or lead a life) of absolute excellence that creates:
* integrity with my word, determinations, and goals
* authenticity, joy, and love in my relationships
* and service to my family, friends, community, the world, and God.
It's a work in progress, and it always will be. But right now, it's who I am.
I am an awesome person, and everyone is, everyone has the capability to be awesome (or as Josh might say divine), and to strive to be the best that they can be.
And that's just a taste of who I am. I'm figuring it out more and more everyday. It's about the journey.
What is my relationship with God? God is a mystery. I don't understand Him, nor do I think I ever really will. He's different for each of us. He's always there though, and He's always got an open ear for us. He wants each and every person to be immersed in love and happiness, surrounded by people who love and support them. He wants us to not be afraid to be ourselves. He wants us to GET REAL! I love when Addison shared this Howard Thurman quote :
"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
I feel like that is a revelation from God. That's what God wants. He wants to see us all COME ALIVE!
I'm not sure I'll ever really understand God, but... I pray. It's time for me to connect with my deeper thoughts, my deeper self, and my higher self--the God and the divine in me. I want to know Him more, and I'm sure He wants to know me more, and it's something that grows and grows and grows. It's about the journey not the destination.
What kind of culture do I want to create? I just moved into college, and it's really different from NGA. But, that doesn't mean this can't be the best year of my life. I just want to keep getting better. I want to share with people my real self. I've already had the conversation multiple times, "Wait, you don't drink? Why?" And the more I tell people, the more I feel comfortable saying it, and just doing it. I would so much rather have a meaningful conversation with someone. "What do you believe in? What makes you happy? (thanks Jacob Shaw) What do you think of today's culture?" I love asking people these things, and I love being real with people. I want to have adventures, I want to have fun, I want to wake up in the morning excited to learn and have an awesome day! I want to just radiate good energy and just be full of life, wanting to learn, wanting to serve, wanting to get better and just... be happy.
I have standards; I keep them. I have habits; I want to make them better and better. I am ready to skyrocket.
That's what I want to live like, "Would I do this on NGA?" And just do or don't whatever that answer is. Think about why, and keep to it. I am creating heaven here in Easton Hall room 2133, and that's how it's gonna be for this whole year.
I hope that something, even just one thing, you can remember and maybe even try to apply it to your life.
Joyce Payer. Full-Year Program' 07-08
The average student, upon graduating from high school, is generally faced with one of two options: find a job or prepare for a career by continuing on in academia and attending college. While attaining a degree or some other form of higher education is often encouraged, neither option is fool proof. Merely moving on to college does not imply success. Many students have little idea what direction they wish to take their lives, and while some eventually do graduate and go on to successful careers, an even greater number either drop out or graduate without a plan for the future. Too many people are sent off into the world without a clear concept of who they are or what skills are needed to become a productive member of society. With such underwhelming success, one wonders if academic education alone should be the recommended path for today’s youth or if more emphasis should be put on experiential learning.
My decision to search for a career in music was not a hard one to make, mainly because music was the only thing I could never consider living without. It has always been a huge part of my life. As a child, there was never a quiet moment in my house. The days were filled with my mother’s singing, my father’s whistling, and my own attempts at learning various instruments around our home. As I grew older, I dedicated my time to practicing both my viola and piano—not because I was forced to but because I truly loved it. I competed and was even awarded scholarships to several colleges and universities. No one doubted the path I would continue on after graduating, so when I announced that I had decided to take a year off from my studies, including my music, some close to me were shocked. They thought I had lost my mind.
My reasoning was solid, however. I wanted to take time to discover more about myself before I was tied down to school or a career. I wanted adventure. I wanted confidence. But more than anything, I wanted to push myself to create an experience that I could take with me, and that would help prepare me for the rest of my life.
Upon graduating, I joined the NextGen Academy, a program designed for high school graduates who want to develop their own personal skill sets and character through public service. I had relatively no idea what sort of service work I would be doing, only that there was a glimmer of hope that we would be sent over-seas for a period of time.
Terror and excitement coursed through my body as I stepped off the plane in Seattle and was ushered to the NextGen headquarters for the opening program. Ten others stood around me, varying heights, weights, and races, but all with similar looks on their faces—unsure of the direction of their upcoming year. We all knew we would have an adventure, but none of us expected our adventure to be handed to us in the form of a small, colorful, paper crane. In the midst of the chaos of opening night, we had been bombarded with various gifts: A journal, a pen, several papers, and the opportunity to draw a crane out of a hat, my own being red. None of us gave the latter a second thought, and their importance was not made known until the director stood up and announced our schedule of events for the year.
“This year,” he began, “our team will have the opportunity to create our own international service projects teaching Character Education in five countries in Southeast Asia.” He went on to explain that we would be in charge of every aspect of our projects, from designing them, to raising the money, to carrying them out in our countries. We would work in teams of three, and stay overseas for one month. He continued to call out each of the countries within the project: Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India. I held my breath, waiting to hear which country I was assigned when the director announced “If you are holding a red crane, you will be going to India!”
My heart stopped. As he continued yelling off the colors of the other countries, I searched the crowd for the two others who were also holding a similarly colored crane.
The following months seemed to both fly by and stand still as we all feverishly tried to create our programs before the designated leaving date. I spent hundreds of hours with my teammates, Lily and Lisa, emailing, phoning, and writing various organizations and people in an attempt to find schools to teach in while in India, as well as learning the curriculum we would be teaching. We spent nearly twice that amount of time sending out letters to friends, relatives, and businesses asking for financial support. Stress levels were high, but nothing we went through at home compared to what we had to overcome once we reached India.
Our team goal during our entire project was to connect—connect with each other, connect to the country, and connect to its people. But as soon as we stepped off of the plane, we were assaulted with the many differences between home and our current location. Poverty and extreme pollution plagued the streets, and we were told upon arrival that it was unsafe to walk around by ourselves. Temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit made a small trip to the corner store a tiring venture, especially when beggars all but physically attacked us for any small amount of rupees. Our schedule constantly changed due to conflicting exam schedules in schools we had made plans with, and we grew accustomed to making lesson plans a few hours before presenting.
Three weeks into our stay, we were given the opportunity to travel across country to a small tribal village in the mountains. The night before departure we were told that it had been arranged for us to present our Character Education curriculum to the entire village. No one in the village spoke a word of English, nor did they usually welcome visitors from outside the surrounding area, but it was up to us to create a successful program. While hiking seven kilometers up the mountain, we nervously discussed possible outcomes for the day, all of us feigning optimistic excitement for what lay ahead. But as we reached the clearing of the village, we noticed something strange. There were no people. We cautiously walked around the tiny acre of dirt the village was situated on, searching for its inhabitants. The houses were no more than eight foot squares, and I had to bend over just to fit through the doorway. As we neared the schoolhouse, I heard scuffling behind me. I turned around just in time to see several small bodies dart behind a house, and I quickly followed after them. The next thirty minutes were spent trying to get within ten yards of the children who had been following us. For us, it was a horrible reminder of the extreme differences between our two cultures. For them, it was a thrilling game. One or two brave souls would sneak close enough to tempt one of my team to walk forward, only to zoom away, screaming at the top of their lungs, when any movement was spotted.
Resigning ourselves to failure, my teammates and I retreated to the coolness of the one room schoolhouse. We had no idea how to get near the people of the village, let alone teach our “Character Education” curriculum. While we waited for help from our guide, we each pulled out the musical instruments we had brought along. None of us had any hope for the rest of our day, so we turned to music for a small bit of comfort. After a long sigh, I picked up my guitar, and the three of us began singing.
Suddenly, we noticed movement through the door. Small heads were popping up from behind the window sill, and within a matter of minutes, the entire population of the village had ushered themselves into the schoolhouse with us. Although they could not understand the words we were singing, they stared at us with obvious intrigue as we performed hits by Green Day, the Beatles, and other various folk tunes we knew. As the day went on, our guide acted as a make-shift translator, and we performed skits like “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and other Aesop’s fables for the kids, who in turn would sing songs and show us dances native to their culture. By the end of the day, we were sharing personal stories and they were asking us questions about life in our respective homes. While specific words and details were lost in translation, no one seemed to mind. We were simply enjoying each other’s company.
As we began our decent down the mountain, the entire village waved us off, encouraging us to come back and visit soon. My teammates and I exchanged looks of amazement. None of us could have ever guessed that our day would turn out so perfectly. We had little hope for success but were still able to connect to people completely different from ourselves. We did not need intricate lesson plans or power point presentations to make a difference. Our program was improvised, but we had an even more amazing adventure because of it.
My time in India, and with the NextGen Academy, was an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and into positions where I was forced to take charge of my life. It gave me a greater appreciation for all of the small things I take for granted, like clean water, and a greater sense of how big the world is. Most importantly, I left my year with the NextGen Academy with a deep desire to make a difference in this world and the confidence to take on any obstacle I might face. I may no longer be in India, but every day is still an opportunity to create another life changing experience, and that is something I will never forget.
Mike Perkins. Full-Year Program' 08-09
Dear NGA family,
You guys inspire me. A lot. So much wisdom. So much heart. So much sincere depth. I love hearing each person's "voice" in what they've written. And I love you all WAY more than these typed words could ever show. Brace yourselves, this could be a long one. Who am I?
I, my true self, is someone who can do anything. Someone who LIVES with fearless freedom. Someone continuously growing and developing. Someone who lives for others and acts in spite of everything. That is one part of the answer that I have discovered this year. But it sounds pretty generic, don't you think? Like yeah cool but not really special. Sounds like it could be anyone, couldn't it? Why yes...yes it does. And that's just it. It could be anyone; it IS everyone. So then what's up with that? I got the little voice going "but I wanna be special!" It is my decisions that make me special. I start with this universal potential, but it's what I do with it, and how I do it, that really makes me into who I am. I'll always have that core, that root which connects me to God and to my worldwide family, but I also have the space and the freedom to write my own story. So in a way I am defined, and in a way I am not and never will be. It is truly a beautiful and brilliant combination, something I want to try to see in everyone, as difficult as it is sometimes. I owe this answer to NGA and to all of you, for giving me the freedom and opportunities to explore and discover this for myself. This is what I've chosen to do, among other things:
1) Since nature is where I most easily and consistently find peace and God, I will show this to other people by leading small groups on high adventure journeys of both the body and soul. Mountains, rivers, jungles, whatever. This happens to double as an excellent business opportunity, and I'd like to eventually conduct these "workshops" all over the world, especially in Africa. As Sam told me to do, I want to "show people what God has shown me". This dream is my reason for maintaining an active and extreme lifestyle.
2) I will build an awesome, harmonious, and loving marriage and family. One that honors God, loves inwardly and outwardly, and has the power to change the world.
3) As a professional engineer, I will return to Africa and other developing countries. I will help them to stand on their own two feet, using resources they already have, that they might best be able to share with the world their God-given gifts and inner awesomeness which I have been so priveleged to experience firsthand. I want to help them realize their infinite potential as God's children. This dream is my reason for going to college.
What is my relationship with God?
God is very real to me, and has always been there when I needed him most. This I know and believe. I also know that God is with me all the time, even when I don't feel like I need him. I'm still working on the belief part for this one. I guess what I mean is I feel God at the peaks and in the valleys, but rarely in between. By the way, when I say "feel God", that usually means feelings of extreme gratitude, or just that feeling of knowing everything's gonna be alright. I want to feel God all the time, because it's awesome, but it's hard to think that that means I gotta hit some horrible low or find a miraculous high. That's kinda what I'm working on now, but it's been tough. Maybe if I make "normal times" more purposeful, like for God, that will help. I'm not really sure. However, I can't forget where I was before NGA, and how far I've come. From barely believing in God, to having a relationship, to wanting a better one; this has been huge for me, and it's something I hope can continue, though it's definitely harder in school.
What kind of culture do I want to create?
This is tough to put into words, but it's probably good practice. I want a culture of just being myself, in every situation. Lately this has been difficult. I'm at school now, and it's not easy to be the me that I've come to know. The campus and the people have been actually very friendly and welcoming, but I feel closed off. Honestly the NGA culture was the best I've ever experienced, and I want to recreate that wherever I go, but it's hard to believe it's possible. I feel like a little kid who just got all this cool stuff, but is nervous about sharing it because he's afraid it might get broken.
The reason I came to Believe so much more this year was because we didn't focus on it, or at least looked at them differently. I have been "taught" about conventional beliefs all my life, but I learned way more about both in this past year than I did in the last several combined. It was because I had the freedom to experience things without being told what they were supposed to mean; I found myself, then realized it fit perfectly with what I'd always been told. But I had to live it to get it.
This year, for me, really was the start of the rest of my life. It was about discovering my true self, and all that means. It was about connecting to my BC brothers and sisters, on a deeper level than I dreamed was possible. It was about choosing a direction for my life, and taking steps that way. This year, gah I don't know, I changed. I deepened. Most importantly, I opened. I exposed my heart to others and took a first real good look at it myself. I opened to support, to my true self, and to God. I broke the shell that clamped me down inside for so many years, and that felt fricken good. You can't see, but I have tears in my eyes right now. It's short and sweet but that is what this year meant to me, and I will always have that, like, for eternity. Thank you all so much for what you've given me, and for letting me see the real you. You've...changed my life.
Sarah, you are my dear friend and sister, and you have all the support you can ask for. Thank you for having the strength to ask for help (something I struggle with a lot), and giving us all the opportunity to show our love and share with each other. My first instinct was to go nail the jerk who ran into you in the hallway, but I don't think that's what is important right now. I can't tell you how to feel, but I will say that NO ONE has the ability or the right to take away from what you experienced. I know this is especially hard when talking to those who we trust and love; those whom we know are being sincere. But the fact holds true: your experience, which I'm assuming was pretty awesome, is yours forever. No one can change that. It is important to learn from others, but that is for the sake of making a better future, not doubting the past or who you are. Sarah, I think you're the only one who can actually pick up your books and papers, because really, there's tons of stuff on that floor, not just yours, and I can't tell you what your stuff looks like (I hope that makes sense, if not forget it). But please please please do not jump to the conclusion that therefore you are alone. Help is always there. And who knows, in the process of picking your stuff back up, you may find something new and exciting that you didn't have before.
With more love than I know how to express, always and forever,
Danny Baer. Full-Year Program' 08-09
Hiii everybodyyy ,
For the past four or five days, I've been looking forward to the emails I've been receiving in my NGA folder on my gmail. You guys are awesome, amazing, awe-inspiring, and more! (haha i couldn't think of any more 'a' words ) But seriously, you all could never know how much you mean to me or how much I value each and every one of you. THANKS!
About the questions and what not, I don't think I'll get around to answering those today. You all have answered them well and I would just be repeating for the most part. So instead of beating it dead, I'm going to share what i've been experiencing/thinking about for the past three weeks. Hope you don't mind, cuz it sounds good to me! hehehe. There's going to be about three main points that I've learned about, so pay attention! (but you can't really miss them either...they're in italics, haha) Enjoy!
So, I've been quite the busy bee for the past 3 weeks. I moved into my dorm room on August 12, and started 2 weeks worth of RA training. This was a drawn out 9-5 (sometimes 9-9) process that was very informative, but yet many times so very dry. Kim checked out to Oklahoma on the 22nd, and my residents moved in on the 26th and 27th. And voila, yesterday was my first day of school!
It's definitely been quite the ride already, I can say that for sure. The last week that Kim was here was the week that I started my training. Boy that was tough! I would work all day at training, and then spend the rest of my waking hours with her. Then we would wake up, have breakfast, and repeat. What made it worse, was the weekend before, we had gone up to sports fest in New Jersey, had a great, but then I drove the whole way back. So I was totally exhausted for the week to come, and I never was able to catch up on sleep. Haha, it was tough, but we made it work.
One huge thing I learned was to speak my mind no matter what.
One time we had gone to Starbucks, and right next to it was a Rugged Warehouse, it's like a step up from a thrift store where all the rejected name brand clothes go basically. I wanted to go in there to check for some shower flip flops for my dorm, so just like a quick in and out operation, but it ended up being an hour trip into the store. The whole time I was thinking and feeling ancy, but I never said a word of it because in my mind, Kim loves shopping and is having a great time. Meanwhile, it's this really low atmosphere kind of place, and there's nothing even good there, and we're spending our precious time looking at clothes instead of investing in each other. Needless to say, when we finally were leaving, she caught on to my distress, and then we proceeded to have a very insightful conversation about speaking my mind. I guess somewhere deep down inside my mind had tried to equivalate living for the sake of others with suppressing my own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We ended up doing an exercise where for the next day, I told her every thought that came through my mind, and every feeling that I experienced, even for a moment. And I tell you what, it was so friggin liberating! I was able to experience a more fuller expression of freedom.
Another thing that I was thinking about, who woulda guessed it, was also about Kim and I. (haha its like 'The King and I'... 'The Kim and I'... teehee!). When she first got back to school it was a huge shock, cuz her school is insane and works the students like crazy. Like seriously, it's unfathomable to me; you can ask her about it. But ok, here's the quick back story. Last year, her school decided that the next year (this year) they were going to put on a musical called "Millie". Apparently, it's about a tap dancing singer and stuff like that, I'm not so sure. But anyways, when they announced that, there were a bunch of whispers of "Kim is gonna get the part!" "Kim! Start preparing for Millie!" type stuff. The thing is, Kim is in the dance school, and the Musicals are put on by the Music Theatre School. At her school there is this huge chunk of politics that go on between them, and so very few dancers ever get into the musicals because the Music Theatre School just uses mostly it's own students. Okay, so that's the back story. So when I first heard about this, I was like, "Ohhhh SNAP! Kim, you know you're gonna rock this place when you get the lead role right!?" Kim, being from the school and knowing how extremely political it is when it comes to stuff like that, has been kinda skeptical, but still a bit hopeful. So when she goes to her first day of classes (which is this ridiculous schedule that I could rant about all day lol!), who does she find teaching her Acting Workshop class but none other than the director of the school musicals himself! And she told me that he was talking to her and said something along the lines of, "Hey Kim, I'm really about you and Millie this year!". Something like that.
Okay, now for the moral of the story. For one thing, Kim has constantly mentioned to me that, "I couldn't have made it this far without you." Now, despite the bias that she might have, I can kind of sympathize with her because her school is ridiculous, haha. But, what I ended up thinking/feeling about, was that this entire past year, I have been supporting, encouraging, and believing in her 100%. I know her goal of being the best and getting to Broadway, and I also know that she already has the talent of a star, but soooooo many times, even she can't remember it. It's crazy, but it happens all of the time. Even to me! (I'll talk about that in a second). Even to all of us. Basically, my conclusion was this:
Every single person DESERVES someone that believes in them 100%. Let's try and be that person.
We never really get to experience ourselves from another person's perspective. Do you realize that? Even looking at ourselves in the mirror is not the same. We never get to really interact with ourselves. Even if we met everyone in the world, we still would not get the pleasure and joy of meeting ourselves. Sure, we can relate to ourselves via our mind, or through the way we experience the external world, but we never will get to experience our friendship and companionship as other's do.
BECAUSE OF THIS, soooo many times, we never really, truly, positively, understand our own value. Or if we do, we often forget it. For Kim, I have never had any doubt in her abilities or that she would have accomplished the things that she has since the time I've gotten to know her well. But for her there's been loads of doubts along the way. Isn't that a strange phenomenon? I think it is indeed, but I also think its a beautiful one. It seems to me that it promotes interdependence and community. We are built to need each other's support and love. Let's be those people that believe in others. Let's be the ones to remind people how great they truly are, for that is a reminder that is never too often said.
This plays into the last thing that I had wanted to talk about. I want to go into a little more about my position as an RA. First off, my dorm is a special "living learning" program with about 120 students in it. It's called CIVICUS, and it is all about raising strong citizens in the community. It's really cool, and it's an awesome way to take this huge campus and shrink it like crazy. The day that everyone finished moving in, Thursday, we started off with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich drive. We made about 1000 sandwiches to give to a local food drive in DC. The next day we left early to go do a park clean up: take graffiti off of walls, remove invasive plants, pick up trash, etc. It was really cool! We got right to work from the get go. It was a great way to set the atmosphere of the program, as well as to meet a bunch of people. Also, I had my first floor meeting on Sunday night. I am responsible for two floors, and about 35 residents.
I am in a position of i n f l u e n c e . And I will make the most of it.
In reality, all of us are always in positions of influence, however great or small they may be. But here and now, I am in a deliberately skewed position of influence. There are 35 freshmen and sophomores that I will be directly impacting for the next 8 or so months of my life. When that hits you, man, it's like having someone wake you up with a blaring megaphone a few inches from your face and winning the lottery at the same time!
Just because of my position, these peers of mine respect me, they look up to me, and they're watching me too. It's truly a blessing, its the real deal, this is no longer a test. How will I use my leveraged power?
For one thing I will try to always set the example. My floor meeting was pretty sweet actually. For starters, I passed out index cards and had everyone write an information card:
Name, room number, Class, Year, Interests, Interesting Facts, What Floor Event They Want to See,
and then I also threw in the last two:
What is a Goal that You Have? What is Your Reason for Being in College?
This was something so simple, yet it gave everyone a chance to think about why they're here, to think about they're goals. Now granted, a few of them kind of blew it off, but the large majority actually had some legitimate and impressive goals and reasons. Another reason I did this is because it's my hope to be that person that believes in these guys. Be the mentor that helps these guys in the right direction. Be the cool guy, but not because I'm following all the other "cool kids", but because I have my beliefs and values and I'm living those out. It's so important to even give people a chance to see that! If younger people only see the negative side of society and the media, and they don't know what it looks like to live what you believe, then it's hard to find direction. Since this group of people respect me, then when I tell them that what really matters for them is doing what's best for them, and not what's "cool" or expected by everyone, then they don't blow it off. They think about it, chew on it, and a seed is planted. It's good stuff.
Live by the law of your word. =)
My classes are sweet this semester, I'm going to have a blast. I'm going to sit in the front rows and befriend the professors. I'm going to be the best, and won't settle for less.
I am THE Danny Baer. I love you all. A lot.
Sasha Drost Summer Challenge'10
The NGA Summer Challenge truly made a difference in my life, and I cannot fully express in words how it has impacted me, my attitude, relationships, and faith. Going into the Summer Challenge, I never imagined how much I would be pushed physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was a time for me to get passed my limits and out of my comfort zone.
Before NGA, my life was very passive, as I was just moving from one day to the next; I was not living life. Now, six months later, I find myself in a totally different lifestyle; I am actively involved in youth ministry, and I have been working on my relationships with family and friends. The Summer Challenge opened my eyes to a deepness that I did not think was possible — a deepness not only in the new friends I made, but also within myself. I came to realizations that there was so much more that I could do in life, and that I had the strength and courage to do it.
The Summer Program really challenged me in all areas, and as a result I have gained confidence in myself, that I can do what I set my mind to and that I really can achieve my ultimate purpose—to make a difference in the world.
Throughout the summer program, I came to realize that I have so much to give, once I get passed my own limitations and fears. The love and support from the NGA family was so overwhelming, that it deepened my desire to share that love with my own community and family. As a result, I feel that I have become a more active and sincere person, and I can finally say that I am living life.
The program really taught me about self-motivation. Whatever I am confronted with, my team or family may encourage and support me, but it all comes down to what I decide to do. I especially learned that during several activities, like the Mt. St. Helens hike, fundraising, and skydiving, which took so much on my part to conquer my fears. And now that I’m at home, it’s the same way; it’s all up to what I decide to do, and after NGA it was so much easier to motivate myself in making a difference in my life. I’m not so afraid of rejection anymore, and am willing to step out of my comfort zone. Particularly during the first month since NGA, I always felt immersed in a positive energy, and even today, I have that self-motivation and will for initiating a change in my life, as well as working on my own growth.
Overall, from Summer Challenge, through the unimaginable challenges, identity-searching, and new friendships, I have gained a new confidence in myself, overcoming my limits, and finding my true potential.
I can never thank the NGA family enough for changing my life.
- Sasha Drost, Age 19, Maryland
Max Pecarsky Summer Challenge'10
Being on summer program was one of the best experiences I had in my whole life. It made me appreciate the small things I do have in my own life a lot more, like my parents and my own home. It helped me grow spiritually by opening up more to others and to god. I felt that I did grow a stronger relationship with god for the summer program, but coming back home it was hard to maintain, but summer program helped without a doubt. It also grew relationships with my fellow participants and the NGA full year participants. Also with my own family especially with my sister and my father. I was able to express my heart a lot more after summer program because I felt more trusting of them. With all this growing spiritually and relationship wise, I also expanded my comfort zone by fundraising and talking to to everyone I would see. I also expanded my comfort zone by giving a morning service to the group in our closing workshop. This was very scary for me, but since I did it, I felt like I grew a lot. I have made many friends over this summer program and I feel they will last a lifetime. Overall, NGA summer program, I would say was life changing for the better. I have grown so much since then and also I have become more of a leader which was what I really wanted to gain going into summer program.
- Max Pecarsky, Age 17?, Vancouver BC Canada
Marina King Summer Challenge'10
In a lot of ways this summer changed my life, and I am so grateful for the experience I received. The NGA summer program was so much more than just the awesome and exciting activities we did, it was the heart that our brothers and sister invested in us, their hard work and their love. Something that really stood out to me when we first arrived, was that there was already a positive, loving atmosphere that the full year NGA-ers had created. Through out the summer I could tell that this would be something I would never forget, and over time it has proven that what I remember most was the relationships I had made with people who see me for who I really am and for the daughter of God that I aspire to be. For me, I didn't just overcome my limitations, I found the strength to look deeper and find out why I was holding myself back, it really did change my perspective and how I see myself and others. The supportive environment and helping out others as they help you through struggle is what really makes NGA stand out. It's a chance to dig deeper and discover and challenge who you truly are, to share your heart with others, knowing that they will support and care for you no matter what you find.
Marina King, Age 16, Novascotia…spelling? Canada
Richard Machado Summer Challenge'10
NGA gave me a choice where to go with my life. It really helped me discover who I was as a person and what I truly wanted to get out my life. It doesn't do justice to say it was only a life changing experience, I was able to move forward in my own life with confidence and a different perspective. The memories I made and people I met I will never forget because of the impact the had on my life. You are always given that room to grow in your own way with the guidance of others. What really broke through to me was that we are not alone in our suffering and the atmosphere everyone felt from this realization was unlike anything else I've experienced. The activities I took on challenged me emotionally, physically, and spiritually to my limits but after breaking the concepts, fears, and doubts I was truly able to appreciate myself despite my faults. I am so grateful for the relationships I made there because they helped me grow and supported me throughout the program. It's amazing to see how much can change in one summer.
- Richard Machado, MA
Tesia Bobrycki International Service Coordinator 2008-09
Late nights, early mornings, "to-do" lists that stretch onto several pages, impossible missions, never enough time...
When people ask what it's like being an International Service Coordinator, my response is always the same. "I'm living a dream." I do often question the sanity of my dreams, but regardless, it's one I've never regretted and have never gone back on. Last year I chose a blue paper crane out of a hat and a few months later, found myself in Sri Lanka. My journey and experiences there have literally changed my life. I left Sri Lanka with the knowledge that lives were better because of me, that a hundred and fifty children had a better school to go to, that eleven woman could start businesses because of the micro-financing loans we set up, that the friendships I created were eternal. It was the first time I had seen real poverty and it was the first time I recognized the power I have to change the world.
This past year has been one of the hardest in my life as I deal with knowing that the majority of the participants experience overseas relies on my own ability to accomplish the task at hand. Yet at the same time, this past year has been one of the best in my life as I wake up every day knowing I'm making a difference and, given the opportunity, these participants can make a difference too. When it comes down to it, that is my job description, creating the opportunity.
Sri Lanka impacted me in a way I don't think I'll ever be able to truly describe. This year, as a coordinator, I won't have the experiences of creating and participating in service projects, something that gets me down on rainy days, yet I hold onto the thought that maybe, just maybe, because of me these participants can have their own Sri Lanka experience. That somehow through this epic journey to the other side of the world, they can meet a child who captures their heart, or perhaps there will be a woman who cries and clings to them as they are about to leave, or maybe they will look over a fence and see a toddler, alone and without clothes, staring out over the ocean...
Whatever the experience, there are infinite possibilities of encountering that one moment that will change the core of who they are. So there are late nights, really late nights sometimes, and I can't see anything past the ridiculous amount of coffee cups that clutter my desk, but everyday I wake up knowing that this is my dream.