Au Pair in America is proud to announce our 2018 Au Pair Community Service Award winners, au pairs who have gone above and beyond in the last year to volunteer and have a real impact on their community. Here are their special stories.
“ In January 2017 I became a part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Tax Return Preparation team. We were providing professional help for taxpayers at Kingstowne Public Library in Alexandria every Saturday from January till April. We were serving people with low income, who struggled with many kinds of disabilities, and who had troubles with understanding English language.
In June 2017 I took a volunteering Consul position at the InterNations Organization, which helped me improve my planning, logistical and leadership skills. I was looking for volunteering opportunities which could be also the way to develop myself, and professional skills. I had the pleasure to meet hundreds of people from different cultures and backgrounds as well as to understand them better. It was an amazing, fulfilling feeling to see participants who truly appreciate my effort.
The purpose of this organization is to connect expats by organizing professional events which give them the opportunity to network as well as to help them adjust to a new living area. The group, which I coordinate, connects more than four hundred people from 92 countries. I am responsible for organizing outdoor events. My first event for InterNations brought me positive, satisfying feedback.
For my first event I gathered people to experience one of the most unique hiking spot in the very old town of Harpers Ferry. There is no better place to see the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers converge. Even though the trail was pretty challenging for some attendants, the view from the Overlook Cliff was definitely worth it. I also organized a picnic for the 10th birthday of the InterNations Organization in the Gravelly Point Park where we prepared a potluck and played volleyball. Almost 40 people joined, shared lots of delicious dishes, and snacks.
I organized the next event when we rented kayaks at Waterfront Georgetown. We spent two hours kayaking; the weather was amazing, and we had a chance to discover the Potomac River and see those gorgeous monuments. For some people it was their first time kayaking which was pretty exciting for all of us. I found it pleasant to be able to connect those international people and make them familiar with Washington. I am not part of this organization anymore since I am flying back home this month.
What is more, on Saturdays in August I was participating in Food For All DC events. We were packing food, which was given by local farmers, and then delivering it to people who struggled with many kind of disabilities or poverty. It was a great experience to see how many people showed up every Saturday morning to help the others.
All of those experiences helped me to understand different people from around the world. I had a chance to feel appreciated for my actions, which made me become more thoughtful about others, and more open. ”
“One of the reasons I chose my host family was because my host mom and I have a lot in common, especially that we love sports and we believe in sports as an important way to give people self-confidence and good social skills. My host mom was a track and field Special Olympic coach, which she started doing because her aunt had Down’s Syndrome and she was very good at track and field.
This year the Special Olympics in Connecticut started with basketball. The trainings were every Tuesday from 7pm to 8:30pm. Wesleyan University shared the space with us, and a lot of the athletes came to help too, which was amazing. The team works in two ways: we have the skills group, who teach some movements, like how to dribble and score. And we have the team who play basketball for real.
My first day as a volunteer was very nice; I met the athletes and other volunteers. But after a few practices, I was amazed to see how the group start being a real group, playing with each other. When they recognized me, saying things like “Hey Luisa, how are you?,” this was the point when I thought, “good, they recognized me, they want to talk to me, they see me like a friend,” It was definitely very nice.
I also went to the Penguin Plunge with my host mom. They do the Plunge in Connecticut to raise money for the Special Olympics. A lot of people donate money, and we celebrate by jumping in a lake with very cold water! This was my first time in such freezing water. I should mention I am from Brazil; I really discovered winter and cold water here!
Another special moment that I remember was the tournament day when we were together waiting for our medals. We got first, second and third places with the skills group, and our team also got bronze medal in an amazing game!
Now I am going to start track and field with them. I also signed up for a coaches’ training, which maybe my host mom will do with me, so this way I will be able to help better for the competitions. Sports are something that I really love.
Here in the USA, it is nice to be able to enjoy the American life and culture with sports, both watching them on TV and going to the games, and because of the volunteer job I started, I watch even more so I can talk with the athletes and we can figure out better things for our training. Being a volunteer makes me think a lot about how grateful I am for simple things that I am able to do, physically and emotionally. This is a gift! But helping the participants, seeing how they develop themselves and especially the way they improve themselves with confidence and friendship, this was the best part. ”close
“ Hi everyone! I am Mara and I am an au pair in America in my second year. I have been with my wonderful host family for almost two years, and just a few months after I arrived in the USA I start to be a volunteer for the Cystic Fibrosis Association. Volunteering has always been an important part in my life because I feel very lucky for my amazing life and all the opportunities I had and so I feel like I have to do something for the ones who aren’t so fortunate. I picked this association because my older host kid was born with cystic fibrosis, and to see her fight every day with such braveness and strength is very heartbreaking.
I go there almost every Friday and I help with the organization of all the events they organize to raise money for research because this is the only thing that can “add tomorrows” to her life. My host parents are volunteers too, and because of this we had the chance to have quality family time all together, like the Great Strides or the annual CF Gala. I am always very impressed by the quantity of people that are always there to help. I learned a lot about cystic fibrosis (before I barely knew what it was) and when I go back to Italy I plan to keep helping the cystic fibrosis research because no one deserves to know his own days are limited. We have to keep fighting till this sickness will be curable. ”
“The privilege of being an au pair is that you get the chance to start over. You are in a new country, with a lot of strangers around you and then you live with them in a house too. Even more, then this program expects you to become part of these strangers by wiggling yourself into the community. The funny part is when you get the chance or the guts to have a conversation with a stranger on a bus or a train, and your accent interest them so much, you can tell that person anything and they will believe whatever you say. My point is, you can make it fun, but you have to be willing to take the risk. Now this can be a very tough task for some; luckily for me, I love meeting new people and can put up a chat quickly. To be honest, it’s easier than it seems.
Our cluster group had the opportunity to participate in volunteer work in City Park of New Orleans. This was physical work. We were soaking wet with sweat (as you know Nola is very humid), bitten by mosquitos, working with dirt. This challenge really showed some true character. The work involved some girls using a huge pitchfork to pick up mulch and dump it in a wheelbarrow. Then others took it to the pathway that had to be fixed. By doing that for a few hours, all of us could say that we helped transform a muddy, swampy path into a usable running trail in the beautiful City Park. But we also made it fun and tried not to look tired. When the day’s work was done, we gave some kids a ride in our very cool and handy wheelbarrows. They absolutely loved it. Then we had a nice picnic that kind of looked like construction workers taking a lunch break.
A totally different activity I did was a fun, educational Power Point presentation for my host child‘s classroom, about my country. The most interesting topic for them was the language that is so rare and the historical landmarks. They also did historical landmarks from the USA that week. It was a two way learning experience. They also loved the original Jelly Tots candy that I brought from South Africa.
I was so lucky that my hosts in New Orleans gave me access to their gym membership to keep me healthy and fit, and also to mingle. So this is also where the magic happened for me. As I was proudly wearing my Strongman run T-shirt from South Africa that has the following on the back: “South Africans don’t cry," two very nice people approached me after the tough power hour gym class and told me they love South Africa and that they go there often. So I told them about the program I am on and I need to do volunteer work. Well if people hear that you are willing to work for free, it’s like catching a fish without bait. Alice and Kevin (wife and husband) told me about the dance group Disco Amigos. We exchanged numbers and I went to the first practice with another friend. I fell in love with the friendly calm vibe they had. But the price to pay to be part of them not so much. I was thinking about just quitting. But this is why I am in America, its about taking chances! My hosts gave me a nice gift for my birthday and so that helped me a lot. I put hours on the dance floor, outside in the cold. I must say I pulled off the very first parade Krewe of Carrollton just fine, by making the Gallery of Nola.com. This picture is also now my profile photo on Facebook because that moment is so special to me.
Being part of the dance group Disco Amigos gave me even more opportunities to volunteer, by encouraging young athletes at a 5k fun run or supporting the Alzheimers walk.
One thing au pairs like to do is take the kids to the zoo. It sure is a fun activity for all. So one of the days we went there, I noticed the stables next to it. I figured, doing volunteer work doesn’t have to be things I don’t like or am not familiar with. It wasn’t long after that I was cleaning stables, working horses, cleaning tack and being a horse riding instructor for children. I also did some classes myself too. Although I am used to working with Arabian horses, this experience really interested me and taught me so much about saddle seat riding. It broadened my knowledge about horsemanship and riding style. With this great group of people, I was so lucky to be at the kick-off event for Mardi Gras which was the very first parade, the feast of Epiphany (the 12th day after Christmas). This event symbolizes the chapter in the Bible when the three Kings travel by horse to visit the baby Jesus.
Through this whole season the vibe in the town just picked up. It’s so wonderful it almost feels better than Christmas spirit. I’m talking Purple, Green and Gold everywhere, King cakes till you can’t eat anymore, and then of course the preparation for this season starts months before. All the dance groups, school bands that rock and roll, the floats that have to be build, organizing traffic. All that mixed up in a big party up until Fat Tuesday. Everyone helps each other. I can truly say that this is the special part of the New Orleans culture that keeps the city from falling apart.
Now I am living in Seattle with another family and working my way in with a local woman’s field hockey team.
Volunteering gives you more than you realize. It should be a bucket list thing!”
“Hello! My name is Karina, I’m 22 years old and I’m from Brazil! The best part of being an au pair for me is learning a new culture and also sharing my culture. I’m on my second year as an au pair, and this year I had the chance to volunteer and share my culture not only with my host family but with a lot of other kids too!
It all started in October, when my host mom told me about the Passports project at my host kid’s school. Passports is a program that helps them learn about the world, the continents and everything. In this program they would “travel” to a country on each continent every month, learning about the country and culture. With my host mom and Jill (a student’s mom who lived in Brazil for a little bit), we created their trip to Brazil! It was so fun doing it, and we even had my mom’s help – she sent us “petecas” from Brazil. Peteca is a traditional sport in Brazil, played with a hand shuttlecock from indigenous origins and reputed to be as old the country itself.
So between some meetings and calls we got everything right: a two-day “trip” to Brazil for the second graders! We had two soccer coaches from Brazil come on the first day to play some soccer with the kids since soccer is a really big deal in Brazil, and the kids loved it! They learned about the flag. I made a video where they could see a little bit about the country; they learned some facts and had a lot of fun! For the second day we had a Portuguese lesson by me and a friend (she’s a Brazilian au pair too!). We decorated tambourines and masks for Carnival, played peteca and we also had two Brazilian samba dancers come to the class to teach a little bit about samba and to have a Carnival parade around the school!
I was very happy to see that our plan that we worked on for months worked out and that the kids had so much fun learning about my country! It was a very special moment for me. I got to show a little bit about Brazil to the second graders with my host mom’s help, and I got to see my host kid very happy because she knew a lot of things about Brazil already since I’m on my second year with them. She was very happy to see me and her mom doing this project for her school, and I think this was the best way of finishing my program.
Now I have two months left, and I can say that volunteering for this project was one of the best things I could do. So many kids had fun learning about my country, and now they can share things about Brazil with other kids too! I loved my au pair years and I loved volunteering in the USA! Thanks Au Pair in America! ”
“Hello! My name is Larissa Marques Freguete, and I’ve been an au pair here in Maryland. Since I got here I always wanted to do some volunteer work as I was used to doing in my home country, because I feel that my time is more meaningful and productive when I can help people. So last year I volunteered on a project organized by the Croassroad Nazarene Church that was partnered with the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree. The Angel Tree program is about providing Christmas gifts to children whose parent(s) is/are in prison.
The project was part of some activities performed by the church study small group that I was participating in at that time. This group was led by the pastors Richard and Karen Barsch, leaders of the Outreach/Mission Ministry of this church. The small group project went beyond the Angel Tree program; we also tried to collect funds for children in India for their education and health care and also gift cards for families in need who wouldn’t be able to enjoy Christmas because of their tough financial situation.
To accomplish the designated goal, every Sunday morning at the service times we set a stand for collecting donations during the two months prior to 15th December, since the gift delivery day was on Saturday, 16th December. After helping with the donation collection, I went with my team to deliver the gifts to the Angel Tree participating families, who were resident of the Arlington neighborhood in Baltimore city.
The most impressive thing I felt during this project was how Christmas is so important for the American people and how charitable and generous they can be. But what really touched me while doing this volunteer work was the happy faces of the kids and how they can be so grateful and become so joyful with a simple gesture. I could see some families didn’t have too much material things to offer; instead, they had a lot of love. We were very well welcomed in their homes.
It was the first time that I spent my birthday and Christmas away from my family, but I didn’t feel that so hard because this work kept my heart very warmed. That Christmas was one of the most meaningful for me, and that is what motivates me to keep doing volunteer work: not the material return, but the abstract and worthy feelings resulting from the human interaction. ”
““Ever since I was a child, I dreamed about being an actress. I started with little school performances, which were really fun. I’ve been in the theatre a couple of times in my life, and I was always fascinated by it. I was curious how everything works in there—backstage, onstage, working with the team. Was the role of the director the most important? When I saw an announcement about this little theatre near the place I live, I thought that it would be a perfect opportunity for me to find out all about those things.
The theatre called Arlington Friends of the Drama was looking for some volunteers to pull the ropes to make things fly onstage. At first I thought that it would just be a high school theatre for a school show, but once my friend and I got there, it wound up it was a serious theatre with real actors putting on an amazing and hilarious play called “ The Light in the Piazza.”
Even from the beginning everyone was so welcoming and kind. The stage manager talked to us and explained everything. They needed people to work in the crew. Every crew member had to wear black clothes so they would not be visible. My friend was responsible for the stage props, which had to be moved in each scene. I was the spotlight operator, which was a really fun thing to do and also very important for the play. Even if it doesn’t sound really serious, it is as important as acting, because you can’t imagine the play without lights and highlights or decorations.
I was working with the light crew. We all got the professional headsets that the stage manager could use to give all of us the commands and information. The director is in fact not the most important person if you are talking about all the things that have to happen. The stage manager is actually the most important and responsible person there. The director’s responsibility is the audition, the actors and the way they act. It was a little bit surprising for me because I’ve never heard about the stage manager before. There are so many people working on the play, and all the audience see are in fact actors.
The most memorable moment was when the stage crew was working on the “hat trick” and at the first show it didn’t work out, which was sad. Fortunately they refined that problem for the next shows and it worked well.
This was an incredible experience for me. I really liked the job, the people I met and the insight of the play. These were the most interesting and fun days of my life. I’ve met wonderful friends for life there that I hope I will keep in touch with for a long time. The crew spent a lot of time together laughing and sharing many stories. This volunteering experience taught me a lot about the people I worked with and my professional interests. ”
We are thrilled that these incredible au pairs chose to give back to their community in such a loving and caring way. The Au Pair in America Staff enjoyed reading their essays; allowing us to learn about each au pair's unique experience and how it impacted them and those around them.
Having au pairs come to America and get involved in their community to the betterment of all, is truly something to celebrate. We hope that through their experience they have gained a broader view of America and enjoyed positive personal growth.
“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”
~ Maya Angelou
“I’m Morgan, a 27-year-old Aussie Au Pair living in New York. I have been regularly volunteering in my local county for over two months.
Before I moved to the USA, my job in Australia was as a volunteer coordinator. In that role, I gained an appreciation for the work of volunteers. I have witnessed the positive impacts a small group of people can have on an entire community, just by giving a little of their time to do good. Before I left Australia I had already decided to volunteer in some capacity whilst in the States. When my college teacher, EJ, mentioned she volunteered for a local organization, I asked her how I could become involved.
I currently volunteer for an organization in Yonkers, New York, called Defiant Media Group (DMG). This small, start-up organization is composed of EJ and her two business partners. Within Defiant Media Group, there is a non-profit branch called PowerLab. It aims to give small, local start-up companies a platform to thrive by providing affordable, collaborative office space and access to low-cost workshops in topics like business planning, coding and financial literacy. The intention is to help Yonkers businesses flourish to improve the local economy and morale.
We worked on an additional project that aimed to support local creatives in Yonkers. We held a free event called CMAD@YAW (Carpet Mills Arts District at Yonkers Arts Weekend). This was a two-day celebration of the local arts scene. Members of the public were invited to walk through the artist’s workspace at the CMAD studios, talk to them and purchase their work. There were musicians, live workshops, virtual reality experiences, food trucks and raffles. The aim of this fun event was to bring the community together, acknowledge and expose the work of local artists and boost creative morale. We hope this event improved the overall perception and reputation of Yonkers.
I met with the DMG team every week. During these meetings we progressively worked towards the organization of CMAD@YAW. I took the lead on CMAD@YAW logistics by recruiting volunteers; sourcing equipment such as stages, lighting and tents; reaching out to local businesses for sponsorship; and organizing volunteer roles and schedules. After the event, I continued my volunteer work by creating and delivering nutrition education workshops as an additional workshop option to what PowerLab is currently offering (I’m a qualified Dietitian).
So far, I have really enjoyed getting other au pairs involved with the CMAD@YAW event. Many au pairs already have degrees in their home country and are looking for extra challenges outside of child care. They are all really grateful to be able to use their skills in another capacity, improve their CV and network. ”
“One of my favorites way to improve my English and meet new people since I have been in the Au Pair in America program is volunteering. Sharing my experience as a preschool teacher is the most important thing to me when it comes to volunteering because I love to help others, especially when I do it for children.
When I started looking for places to apply and volunteer, my interests were focused on teaching at daycares or preschools and helping people with disabilities, so I found two places near where I live. I started volunteering at the Jeremiah Program, which is a daycare that offers education to single young moms. When the moms go to school, volunteers take care of their children. I think it is a really nice way to support all these ladies to make a great future for their children and themselves. I'm really happy volunteering with them. I've been with them for 5 months and still go once a week.
One of my memorable moments with the children at the Jeremiah Program was when I did my presentation about global awareness. They loved it so much and I felt so happy and proud teaching them about my country, Colombia. We danced to typical music, ate typical food from Colombia, did coloring and talked about Colombian weather and animals. I showed them coins and bills from Colombia. It was so much fun!
The second place where I volunteered is called Reach for Resources, which is a program that helps people with disabilities and mental illness reach their potential. It is an interesting program with a lot of fun activities such as Zumba, bingo, yoga, karaoke and others. One of my most memorable moments was when they asked me to play a song that I would like to dance with them during the Zumba class, so I played a Spanish song and they liked it. It's so nice when the cultural exchange works perfectly.
I think what I have learned from volunteering is when you do everything with love and patience, you do it very well and people around you feel thankful. ”
Candidates for the Au Pair Community Service Award had participated in community service activities in their area within the past year. Community Service included activities that were not normally paid and were completed under the direction of a representative in an organization and their time was varified by that organization.
Volunteer work could be a single activity or a series of events. Au pairs could be an event participant and/or an organizer.
1st Place received a $500 Amazon gift card
2nd Place received a $250 Amazon gift card
3rd Place received a $150 Amazon gift card
Each state winner received a $50 Amazon gift card
Note: Au pairs had to be prepared to submit verification from a representative at the organization/organizations with which they volunteered, upon request.
All entries were submitted by Tuesday, May 1st, 2018, to qualify for the contest.
All winning entries received Au Pair in America recognition and press recognition, as well as awards for their efforts and achievements.
Au Pair in America, 1 High Ridge Park,
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(800) 928-7247 direct - (203) 399-5000
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