I’ve never done volunteer work before this year. I didn’t understand why people would work for hours for free and then I became an exchange student. When I met with my local coordinator, Sharron Jennings Caldwell, she told me about the Greenheart Club and she encouraged me to join. I thought about it and finally joined the club–that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. First when I started to volunteer it was hard to find what to do but my host mom, Carla Fox helped me a lot. Then I just began to people and organizations. I met with a lot of new people, I got involved and my English improved too. I became more open and I could easily start a conversation with strangers. And it actually felt so good to give something back to the community and help to make a better world.
I was shopping for prom in Oklahoma City when Sharron called me and told me that I won the Chicago trip. I started to cry, because I had always wanted to go to Chicago. It was a dream come true.
On May 9th, I arrived to Chicago from Dallas. I went to the baggage claim to get my bag and then I was looking for someone in green or with a sign but I didn’t see anyone. So I called Mike Keefer, who was waiting for us with Alicia Ortiz and I found out that they were sitting almost next to me the whole time. That was when I met these three awesome exchange students: Nika Chugoshvili from the Republic of Georgia, Nora Nuraiym Kemelova from Kyrgyzstan and Anna Lin from Denmark. While we were traveling with the “L” subway train to that beautiful hotel we stayed in, we got to know each other a little bit more. After we arrived we went to the CCI Greenheart’s building where it was a pleasure to meet with Laura Rose, CEO and with the founder and President of CCI Greenheart, Emanuel Kuntzelman. We had a nice talk and they told us how CCI began.
The next day they showed us the other CCI offices and introduced all the people who work there and help us to have a great year in the US. Later we had a presentation about our volunteer experiences, after that we had a pizza party and we tasted that special Chicago style pizza. It was really thick, it looked like a cake or something and it was delicious! That day we got to volunteer too at the City Farm with some CCI workers and we learned a lot of things about planting, organic products, and urban farming. Later that night we went to a White Sox baseball game and we were so excited. It was really cold though but we brought a lot of blankets so it was better. We ate some Chicago hot dogs too.
On our last day in Chicago we went on a Segway tour. It was so cool and we definitely loved it! We saw a lot of Chicago’s sights. Then we went to see that famous “bean”, That was my favorite part! We took some pictures and then we got to buy some souvenirs. I was so lucky because I got to meet with my Hungarian friend who was an exchange student with CCI too and she stayed in Chicago. Later that afternoon we ate at a place where the waiters had to be rude and it was really funny. That night we went to a theatre where we saw the Blue Man Group’s show which was awesome. It was really entertaining, interesting, and funny. I can’t wait to see them again.
The next day was bittersweet because we departed to the airport and we had to say good bye to each other and to Chicago, but the good part was that we brought those unforgettable memories with us. I’m really hoping that I can go back one day and visit that friendly and nice CCI stuff. I want to say, thank you so much to CCI-Greenheart for that wonderful job that they do every day for us (exchange students) and thank you Molly Friend for organizing this amazing trip! Y’all give us a great opportunity and experiences.
My suggestion to the future volunteers is to be open minded, don’t be afraid of new things, and get involved!