We never stop being awed and inspired when VISIONS summer volunteer participants continue serving after their teenage volunteer programs abroad end. Last season two teen alumni from the Dominican Republic (DR) July and August, respectively, Samantha Schindelheim and Nick Genta, were so moved by their experiences and the school they built for San Luis, that they initiated projects to benefit the new school.

Nick Genta collected brand new Spanish language books with Books for a Better World (booksforabetterworld.org), an organization he has volunteered with for years. B4BW aims to stock schools in rural communities in Latin America with brand new books. For three years Nick gave hundreds of hours to B4BW for his Eagle Scout Project. Working alongside the director, who had been his 5th grade Spanish teacher and who had brain cancer at the time, Nick oversaw over 100 volunteers while choosing, ordering, boxing, and shipping over 4,000 Spanish books.

Then, just before Nick’s scheduled trip to Guatemala to hand deliver the books, the director died and the trip was cancelled. While all 4,000 books were finally delivered and B4BW continued, Nick says he finished his project feeling incomplete.

Two years later Nick joined VISIONS. He said: “Only upon applying did I make the connection with my Eagle Scout Project; here was a new opportunity to collect and deliver books! By fusing the two organizations, I was able to participate in the construction of a 45’ x 50’ block-and-mortar school, and then to deliver the books to this initial Books for a Better World library in the Dominican Republic.”

When asked about his VISIONS experience, Nick says: “It was truly an amazing experience. I was finally able to get out of my own country (it was my first time) and see the world from a different perspective. Yes, I realized I am blessed, but I knew that before. The greatest thing I learned was about communication. I learned about love, loving others, my coworkers and the Dominicans. There was no greater feeling than holding buckets of cement, knowing that I was building a school. I believe that education is the greatest gift you can give someone. There are two things that can never be taken away from you: your integrity and your education. Books for a Better World continues to send a new shipment of books every year to their sites.” Nick is currently in the process of getting the second shipment of books to the DR.

During Samantha Schindelheim’s summer in the DR with VISIONS she heard about the Batey Fund, an educational scholarship for Haitian refugees in the DR established in 1997 by three VISIONS participants. Intrigued, she decided she would involve her school when she got home. Over 2,000 kids attend Samantha’s school, so she was sure she could collect plenty of school supplies to donate to the Batey Fund. Samantha made posters with her Key Club and helped put donation boxes around the school to collect supplies. Samantha’s timing was strategic, running this fundraiser in the fall knowing kids would have extra school supplies from the beginning of the year. She and her classmates collected and shipped two boxes full of school supplies to the Batey Fund coordinator in the DR.

Samantha volunteers as a nurse’s aid and in her school with special education children. She loves volunteering and is sure that a large portion of her life will be dedicated to helping others. She says, “Working in the DR was a life-altering experience. I matured so much during my time there. I don’t think I have ever felt so good about myself. It was amazing how much compassion and energy I was able to bring to the project. I really hope I can continue to make a difference in other people’s lives!”

We commend you, Nick and Samantha, for joining a long line of VISIONS alumni who continue to make a difference.

VISIONS in The New York Times