Global Service Learning Leader Honored with GreatNonprofit’s Prestigious Top-Rated Award

Bright Light Volunteers announced that it has been honored with the prestigious 2019 Top- Rated Award by Great Nonprofits for the third time in a row. GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of third party reviews for nonprofit organizations, created their Top-Rated Award as a sort of people’s choice award for nonprofits, where volunteers, donors, and people served cast their vote in the form of a review to express their appreciation and help their favorite nonprofits win a spot on this coveted list. Read more here:

Top Nonprofit Honor- GreatNonprofits

Developing Students to be International Citizens

The purpose of education is to empower students with the tools necessary to be able to think and learn about the world around them, giving them the ability to acquire knowledge about how to develop relationships with peers and the larger community, which today represents the global community.

GoAbroad Staff Interview

What inspired you to work for Bright Light Volunteers?

I volunteered abroad with my children beginning when they were 5 and 7-years-old. Witnessing the way that service and travel has influenced them during their development was inspiring. I want to help all youth be able to participate in international travel and service and believe that has the power to make the world a brighter place for all!

Bright Light Volunteers participants
On-site with a volunteer during a school build in a very rural and remote part of Albania.

Describe a typical day at work.

Even though the job sounds like it is all adventure and traveling, most of the work for Bright Light Volunteers staff happens on the ground here in the U.S. There are always emails and inquiries to handle, data entry, post program interviews, insurance procurement for groups, and the HUGE amount of other logistical work that goes on in the background in order to run these sorts of programs in host communities around the world.

Why do you do what you do?

I have a heart that calls me to be of service and I have a genuine concern about the divisiveness, inequality, and cross-cultural hatred that I see in the world. I believe that through travel, education, and service that we can cultivate more peace, compassion, and tolerance in the world.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the job—hands down—is working on the ground with a student group and host community as a stateside BLV rep. Being able to help lead the program and group and witness the changes in perception and openness that they experience gives me the joy and energy needed to continue to further our organizational mission.

How do you use your education and international background in your current role?

As a graduate Magna Cum Laude of Southern Methodist University, I pursued international studies and cultural anthropology with a focus on Latin America. Having an educational background, as well as my previous international experience, gave me the perfect tools for my trade.

What are some current projects you are working on?

One big project at the moment is finalizing our new website! In our work, things change a lot and we needed to migrate to a platform that allows us to maintain and update our website at the click of a button.

Bright Light Volunteers participant
On-site with a high school group from California helping with the construction of several different community projects.

What advice would you tell your pre-travel self?

Don’t be scared of wandering because it is when wandering that one finds the opportunity to discover oneself. Speak the local language even if you can’t speak fluently…how will you ever speak fluidly if you don’t practice with those who know it best!

What makes Bright Light Volunteers special?

A large part of what makes Bright Light Volunteers special and unique is the manner in which we have formally combined a unique educational component into our global service learning programs.

Why should someone choose your organization over competitors?

Students that participate in our program receive three hours of transferable college credit through our educational partner Bethel University. They also receive a Certificate of Global Citizenship and the bronze level of the Presidential Service Award. We offer very comprehensive and fun programming that changes lives.

What hopes do you have for the future of Bright Light Volunteers?

I hope that we will continue to be able to bring in funding for our student scholarship program. Travel and service change students’ lives. Through our scholarship program we are helping to fund programs for students attending Title 1 schools.

Are there any developments with your organization that you would like to share with us?

We were recently a finalist in GoAbroad’s 2019 Innovation Awards for “Innovation in Diversity” and I was able to attend the event in D.C. We didn’t win in that category, but it was inspiring to be in a room full of people who feel as passionately about the power of travel to transform!

Bright Light Volunteers participants
With a teacher leading a group to help put in a playground at the children’s center we work with in Quito, Ecuador.

What makes your organization easy to market to potential participants?

The opportunity for dual enrollment college credit for high school students is a really great opportunity that differentiates our programs from the crowd.

What is the mission of Bright Light Volunteers and how do you continue to work toward it?

The mission of Bright Light Volunteers is to make the world a brighter place by providing educational service opportunities that foster the development of global leaders and citizens.

What do you hope participants take away from your programs?

I hope participants leave the program with a newfound sense of belonging and purpose. I hope it inspires them to create and partake in service initiatives in their home communities and that they, in turn, teach peace and tolerance to others…like a ripple effect of love and compassion.

If you could participate on one of your organization’s programs, where would you go and what would you do?

I still haven’t been able to participate in our newest Costa Rica program!!! We are working with several small community groups there that are doing really interesting work in upcycling trash collected on the beaches to help community members create art to sell to tourists and supplement their income while bringing awareness to the global garbage crisis.

What questions do participants often ask you, and how do you typically respond?

Is it safe? My response: We can’t guarantee safety (no one can) but our team has done and continues to do an incredible job mitigating any possible security/safety concerns. We use safe, contracted, and licensed drivers, we typically operate in small host communities, and we have trained program leaders with the group every step of the way.

Catherine Greenberg
Taking in the view while scouting out our program in Quito, Ecuador.

Why is it important for people to travel abroad and experience new cultures?

Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness. In order to be able to cultivate peace in the world we must have a broader experience of what it means to be human in the world.”

What does meaningful travel mean to you?

I think all travel is meaningful. Any time someone tiptoes out of their cultural comfort zone it is a cause for celebration. It is difficult for people to be intolerant of others or for hatred to consume hearts when, by experience, one sees oneself reflected in others. We are a global community and travel only facilitates our ability to connect with one another.

What hopes do you have for the future of international education?

I hope that in the future international education is made an available option for all students, regardless of the financial barrier to participation. Unequal access to these sorts of educational programs creates a deeper divide in our communities at home and abroad. We are a global society and a global society demands for global citizenship education.

Our programs use a methodology called global-service learning, which combines international community service with experiential learning. This approach creates culturally aware global leaders and citizens who understand their place in the world and their ability to effect change both at home and abroad. 

Bright Light Volunteers puts education and global citizenship at the heart of its mission to make the world a brighter place. We have partnered with an accredited university to achieve our mission and sustain our core values, which makes our nonprofit a one-of-a-kind organization. In partnership with Bethel University (of McKenzie, Tennessee)we offer opportunities specifically designed to prepare students to become the global thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. 

Our programs use a methodology called global-service learning, which combines international community service with experiential learning. This approach creates culturally aware global leaders and citizens who understand their place in the world and their ability to effect change both at home and abroad. 

Students will travel, learn, serve, and lead through each of our programs; each one provides transformative, culturally immersive, experiences abroad. 

Since our partnership has developed, participants now have the opportunity to enroll in a six-week online course in Global Service Learning and Citizenship (GSLC) through Bethel University. With guidance from UNESCO global citizenship education, the GSLC course equips students with the knowledge and functional skills necessary to become culturally competent. Students gain exposure to the history and culture of the host country, preparing them for the experience of cultural immersion and exchange.  

We then provide opportunities to serve by working side-by-side with local partners on community-led service projects abroad, allowing students to develop a deeper understanding of the host country and culture. Students can expect to serve between 20 and 80 hours, depending on the length and location of the program.  

Dallas Teen Inspires Change in the World via Education, Travel, and Service

DALLAS (PRWEB) JUNE 21, 2019

Alexis Soria is a young woman on a mission and she’s got a lot of supporters cheering her on along the way. Last month, Alexis participated in a comprehensive global service learning program in Costa Rica, thanks to generous grants and support that came in from multiple sources after Alexis was awarded a Bright Light Volunteers scholarship sponsored by DFW’s Hispanic 100 – a nonprot organization that promotes Hispanic women’s leadership roles in the private and public sector.

After receiving the H-100 scholarship, Alexis was awarded additional support in the form of a Road Scholarship from the Student Youth Travel Association (SYTA) as well as support from Si Se Puede, an organization that provides advice to students to work for academic success, encourage volunteering, and help students grow into leadership positions.

Alma Garcia, Board Member of Bright Light Volunteers says, “The fact that several nonprots jumped in and helped leverage a small scholarship from H100 into being able to completely fund this opportunity for Alexis is powerful and will, no doubt, have ripple effects throughout our community.”

Alexis, now a Junior at DISD’s Irma Lerma Rangel School Young Women’s Leadership School, isn’t new to this sort of experience. Last year, thanks in part to private sponsorships, Alexis served in the highlands of the Sacred Valley in Peru where she spent time teaching, aiding in the construction of water filtration system, and immersing herself in the people and culture of Peru.

Alexis Soria while volunteering at an animal refuge in Costa Rica with Bright Light Volunteers.

“International education allows me to stretch and grow.”

Recently we got to sit down and debrief with Alexis after she returned home from her latest global service learning experience in Costa Rica and asked her some questions to get a sense of how these experiences have shaped her life and future ambitions:

BLV: What has the opportunity to serve, learn, and lead meant for you?

AS: To serve means that I take a part of my community into another country and plant a seed there. To learn means learning about other cultures and nding ways we can help. We don’t know the struggles other cultures have until we engage with them. To lead means bringing what I learn in other countries to my local community; international education allows me to stretch and grow.

BLV: Has this experience changed you in any way?
AS: Yes … it has changed me in different ways. I learned that we have a lot of commodities living in the U.S. and people in other parts of the world don’t have the basic necessities (toothbrush, towel, bed, etc.) to not only survive … but to thrive. In America we hustle, hustle, hustle and take a lot for granted. In other countries, people value other things like family and tradition.

BLV:Is it important to travel? Why or why not?

AS: Yes. It is important because we get to learn how other people live, their culture and traditions. You learn a lot about how communities work together within a country. In Costa Rica, for example, everyone is laid back, but they do not take anything for granted. A local man explained how their country recovered from the last hurricane by every person contributing in the restoration process. It takes a lot of heart and pride from its inhabitants.

BLV: What are your dreams for yourself and how do you plan to get there?

AS: My dream (as a little girl) was to become a doctor. But the more I learn about the lack of respect for the Mexican community (we are always bashed; we are not appreciated), I want to be a role model for other Mexican girls to love their heritage and help empower the Mexican community. I have volunteered helping Mexicans complete immigration forms and being an activist as a way to gain awareness of the immigration crisis. Doing something in the immigration eld would put me in a position to be encouraging and show compassion to those entering our borders.

About Bright Light Volunteers

Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-prot organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the eld and online coursework through our university partner, Bethel University. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.

About the Hispanic 100:

The Hispanic 100 is a network of D/FW-area Latina leaders who are committed to increasing business development opportunities for Hispanic, women-owned businesses and to promoting Hispanic women’s leadership roles in the private and public sectors. The organization’s endowment fund supports initiatives that address the needs of Hispanic women and girls in the D/FW area. For more information, visit http://www.dfwhispanic100.org. Visit us on Facebook at DFW Hispanic 100 or follow us on Twitter @DFWH100.

Board Shake-Up at International Service Learning Organization Brings Fresh Blood and Diverse Perspectives

Joining the Board of Directors are Alma Garcia (Texas),Kyla Parker (Tennessee), Alex Van Dewark(California), Dr. Sharon Thomas-Parker (Maryland), and Kodi Henderson(Alabama).

Between the five new members to BLV’s Board of Directors, the new team has participated and/or led eight student programs, and three are career educators. It is a diverse Board with membership residing across the U.S. in Baltimore, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and California.

“All five of our newest Board members embody the spirit of community and bring significant talent, expertise and energy to ‘carry the torch’ forward as we continue to scale operations. We are very fortunate to have them by our side as we continue to make the world a brighter place, one student at a time!” Catherine Greenberg, Founder and Co-Executive Director.

Rotating off the existing Board: Margaret McMillan, C. Scott Jennings, and Professor Stacie Freeman. Key details about the newest appointees below:

Alma Garcia, one of BLV’s newest board members, is a leader who has a history of supporting initiatives that empower young girls and women. Inspired by her experience volunteering as a mentor for Big Brothers & Sisters of Central Texas, she went on to serve as the Executive Director of Dream Angels, Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on empowering at-risk girls and providing the support and opportunities necessary to provide them with the best tools possible to achieve their professional and personal dreams. Alma has served, unpaid, as BLV’s Community Engagement Specialist in the past, as well as a seasoned Program Leader guiding groups in our host communities abroad.

Kyla Parker, one of BLV’s newest board members, is a veteran educator from West Tennessee. She has witnessed, first hand, the power of our leadership programs and is a proponent for equalized access to such programs as ours for Title One schools.

Alex Van Dewark, one of BLV’s newest board members, is an entrepreneur and a firefighter/paramedic based out of Chico, CA. Founder and CEO of UP, Inc. (UP: Unlocking Potential), Alex has worked hard to make the MixMat available as an easy and affordable solution to the need for concrete on our service learning programs. Having past experience working as a Business/Leadership trainer for Odyssey Teams, Inc., Alex is well positioned to help BLV expand into serving corporate sector clients to meet their need for cultural sensitivity, cross-cultural collaboration and leadership training.

Dr. Sharon Thomas-Parker, one of BLV’s newest board members, holds a Doctorate of Education focusing on Higher Education Leadership and has an illustrious and varied career as a licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She has served in a variety of cross-disciplinary roles such as Program Director for Redefining Refuge, a nonprofit dedicated to serving victims of sexual trafficking and Director of Behavioral Health at the Family Health Centers of Baltimore.

Kodi Henderson Niehaus, one of BLV’s newest board members, is the Coordinator of Education Abroad and International Exchange at the University of North Alabama (UNA). She joined the Office of International Affairs (OIA) in August 2018. Kodi has a M.A. in Postsecondary Education and Administration and a B.S. in Journalism, Mass Communications, Geosciences, and Television Production. Kodi has worked in a variety of roles in the news industry as an associate producer, reporter, videographer, photographer, and journalist. Furthermore, she has worked several offices of higher education as a graduate assistant in the Student Disability Services office at Murray State University, a graduate intern in the Office of Global Studies at Bethel University, an intern in the Study Abroad Office at the University of Evansville, and as a volunteer in the Office of Education Abroad at Murray State University. She has traveled to Austria, Belize, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, and Switzerland.

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Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the field and online coursework through our university partner. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.