2017 Au Pair Community Service Awards!

Au Pair in America is proud to announce our 2017 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.


Grand Prize Winners

IL

Ana María Zerecero Núñez

Au pair from Mexico living with a host family in Illinois.

GA

Rebecca Cerpentier

Au pair from the Netherlands living with a host family in Georgia.

GA

Grace Naude

Au pair from South Africa living with a host family in Georgia.

Ana María Zerecero Núñez

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. — Pablo Picasso.

My name is Ana Maria Zerecero, and I'm an au pair from Mexico. I volunteer at Pathways Center. I currently live in Chicago. When I am not volunteering, I take care of two amazing boys: William and Matthew. Matthew was born with dysgenesis of the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is made of more than 200 million nerve fibers that connect the left and right sides of the brain.

Matthew is currently 13 years old. Cognitively, he has functions at a 6-year-old level. He has been in a variety of therapies since he was a baby. He is an active boy that requires help, attention, and love. I am always playing with Matthew, and trying to give him stimulating activities. I constantly research for answers on how I can help Matthew and make his life a little better.

I decided to start searching for pediatric clinics that would have patients with similar needs to Matthew's. He currently takes behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and goes horseback riding. I combed through VolunteerMatch.org, where they have endless opportunities. I found the Pathways Center, and their goal is simple: "Our multi-disciplinary pediatric clinic aims to support each child’s unique needs. We offer a friendly, welcoming environment to help all children reach their fullest potential."

After reading about all of the support they offer children, I submitted an application to participate as a volunteer at Pathways and was quickly accepted! Since being accepted, I have been volunteering weekly and helping in occupational physical therapy.

I assist each therapist and work together with different patients. We create therapies that feel as if they’re fun games. Each therapy focuses on the child’s individual needs. Things we help the child develop include: balance, coordination, strength, gross and fine motor activities (activities that involve hand movement), motor planning skills, and postures.

Every week the therapies change, and we see how the patients improve. It is so satisfying to help them, to see their smiles when I cheer for them! I love helping these kids. I have learned so much from them and from the therapists. Every day we practice patience, hard work, and motivation at the clinic and at home with Matthew.

Being an au pair has been the best experience of my life! I've experienced American culture and practiced a second language. I became more mature, and I've had the opportunity to travel a lot!

I've decided that I am going to extend for another year, so I can continue volunteering and helping not only my kid with special needs but also many others! As a volunteer, I can proudly say I am helping others and changing lives. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Be a volunteer!


Congratulations!

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Rebecca Cerpentier

My name is Rebecca Cerpentier. I am from The Netherlands and currently live in Decatur, Georgia, as an Au Pair Extraordinaire, taking care of four host kids (aged 3, 6, 9 and 11). I decided to move to America as an au pair after finishing my Bachelor in Education (Kindergarten – 6th grade).

I was really interested in learning about education in the United States. Volunteering is important, because you give back the community. I did this by sharing my passion for teaching in local schools. I learned more about teaching methods, the importance of Spanish language in schools and particularly enjoyed the pledge to the flag in the mornings!

On Wednesdays, I volunteered at Oakhurst Elementary in Kindergarten in my host kid's class. I helped with writing assignments for one hour per week. I gave the kids feedback on their written products and helped them sounding out words. I volunteered here from November to April.

Since October 2016, I’ve been volunteering at FAVE. This is a 4th/5th grade International Baccalaureate school. I will keep volunteering at FAVE until the end of the year. I volunteer in my host kid's 5th grade class on Tuesdays and Thursdays (about 2-6 hours weekly).

I help the students with their projects during Genius Hour. I helped them in the process of creating their own TED Talk. Sometimes I stayed longer to help out with math. I would teach a group of excelling students or give multiple groups of students instruction on math subjects.

In March, I prepared a special exchange project for the class where I brought them in contact with two groups of my former students from The Netherlands. During my final teaching practice in The Netherlands, I taught a group of 5th grade students, and I was still in contact with my former colleagues. At FAVE they just started their unit of inquiry on World War II, and my former students (now 6th graders) were working on same subject!

I worked on creating a series of lessons, materials and a teachers' manual for an exchange project on WWII. I scheduled a Skype session with the Dutch school, and the students interviewed each other on cultural differences. They asked questions about government, education, food, language, sports and more. This was definitely one of the most memorable moments of volunteering this year!

After the interview both groups started working on the WWII assignments. The assignments were created keeping in mind Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

The students created songs, plays, stories, art, science projects and dioramas about World War II subjects. They made Venn diagrams comparing armed forces and governments of several countries. They did research on monuments and what they symbolize. Some students even read part of a Dutch book on WWII with me and translated it into English.

They exchanged this all by sending videos, pictures and audio recordings to each other. The students were incredibly excited!

This is how I shared my passion for education and my culture so far during my au pair year!

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Grace Naude

My name is Grace Naude. I'm proudly South African and currently living in Atlanta, Georgia.

My favorite part of living in the USA, specifically in Atlanta, is my church, Passion City Church. We are: For God. For People. For the City. For the World. I truly believe that we are here to be an extension of God's love, to go out and love the world. Here in America, what better way to do that than where I can have fun, serve my community and explore this country!

In April 2016 is when it all started...

Firefly Run & Paint Wars
I started my very first adventure in Atlanta by volunteering at the 5K Firefly Run in Piedmont Park (14 May 2016). The sun had set, glow sticks were out and we had you covered with water and some encouragement! We were the hands and feet behind the scenes, helping everyone set up and clean up.

Next, I thought I'd try Paint Wars 2016! After helping hundreds of people check in and get their gear, it was time to get messy with the rest of them!

Advocates for World Health (27 May 2016)
I met some amazing people at Advocates of World Heath in Tampa, Florida. Their mission is to collect donated medical supplies of all sorts and distribute them to Third World countries in need.

Our job: We had to sort through boxes and boxes filled with the most incredible medical gear that I have ever seen, to trash expired items and sort the ones we can use. We had so much fun learning about the great need in some places as well as a newfound respect for those in the medical field!

Passion City Church, Atlanta, GA  
My second home, and the place I spend the most of my time other than work, is Passion City Church. These people have become like family to me, and I am so blessed to be a part of this house.

In March 2016, I started my first day as a Door Holder (volunteer) at Passion City Church (PCC). After a full day of training and a conference later, I was adopted into the PCC family. Being a Door Holder allows me to serve at church every other Sunday in various areas ranging from actually holding a door for guests to come inside, greeting on the shuttles to the church, finding you a seat and looking after your little ones while you enjoy the message. It has been amazing seeing God's work firsthand at church and in the city as well as being a part of making some of it happen.

Covenant House, Atlanta (16 April 2016)
Covenant House is a safe house for homeless kids and teens. Here they can feel safe, learn life skills, attend school and have a hopeful future. I met these guys on an outreach through PCC's College Group. Our mission: To love them!

We went in there with barbecue supplies, a football, a volleyball and a soccer ball at the ready. Put it all together and you'll have a blast. We had a great time getting to know these kids. Playing my very first game of football with them, eating with them and learning from them was an incredibly humbling experience. 

Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Dunwoody Baptist Church (13–16 June 2016) 
What do I do when my host kids are at summer school? I join them of course! I spent a week (that flew by so quickly) leading my group of 2nd graders in a fun-filled week packed with Praise & Worship, arts & crafts, Bible study, lunch time and much, much more. Feeling like a kid again I got to help the church and the kids and grow myself in this amazing experience that I will definitely be doing again this year!

Jars of Clay Church, Downtown Atlanta (14 April 2016)
Jars of Clay Church makes such an incredible impact on the city of Atlanta. They feed the homeless, supply baby supplies to moms who can't afford any, provide a space for the homeless to access the internet and have access to a shower, clean clothes and a haircut when going to a job interview.

They asked for help cleaning up a spare room they bought and transform it into a new space for the kids' ministry. The Singles Group at Dunwoody Baptist Church took up the challenge. We got down and dirty with cleaning, clearing out the space and some painting. Not too bad for a day's work.


State Winners

MD

Bethany Stead & Leigh Johnson

Au pairs from the UK living with host families in Maryland.

CT

Charlotte Bourgeais

Au pair from France living with a host family in Connecticut.

MA

Esther Roth

Au pair from Germany living with a family in Massachusetts.

MI

Finn Klappert

Au pair from Germany living with a host family in Michigan.


Bethany Stead & Leigh Johnson

Back in Blighty (Britain), we celebrate an event called Children in Need in November which is a charity event hosted every year in order to raise money for, you've guessed it, children in need. Bethany (who is also an au pair with Au Pair in America) and I have participated in previous years raising money for the charity through events at our old work place, Katie's Kinder Care, a nursery school, and places of education.

A well-known tradition around Children in Need is to wear pajamas (Spotty, onesies, anything), in order to raise money. We also conduct bake sales (all produce made by the children with adult help), we paint faces to look like Pudsey bear (he's the face of Children in Need), comedy acts and of course no children in need is complete without a tombola, all of this being nationally televised with the help and support of many British celebrities.

But this year, we were both state side, and we didn't fully understand how to donate money from overseas. So, we decided instead to do our bit for the children in need in America—Maryland to be precise. We sat our host children down and asked them what they thought a child in need would like or need to be happy.

These were the suggestions from two three-year-olds and a one-year-old, who mainly babbled but had fun anyway:

Hugs • Kisses • Food • Toys • Stickers • Sweets • A toothbrush • Shampoo • Soap • Toothpaste

It's quite an astonishing list to think these guys haven't been around long. So anyway, we all set out to the shop, bought what we needed and made up little goodie bags ready to give out. We visited homeless shelters with high numbers of children and a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

As au pairs, we feel it is important to share various aspects of our culture with our host children, ranging from baking scones, eating bangers and mash, talking about the royal family and charity events, as well as us taking part in what America has to offer.

We are lucky to live with our host families in very affluent neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland, and felt it was important to teach the children that there are others who aren't as fortunate as themselves and encourage them to continue these acts of kindness, no matter how small.

Along with this, we have also encouraged a positive relationship between the children and their local emergency services, the police and fire departments. Bethany and I plan topics every two months, this particular topic was "people who help us." The children helped make homemade pumpkin soup for the fire fighters and cookies for the police (their choice). It provided not only the children a great opportunity to meet the local services but Bethany and I as well. The children still remember the safety tips taught to them to this day.

From the kids' reactions, I think they got a great sense of pride in what they were doing, and so did we. I hope we can continue to spread the love and charity of Children in Need.


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Charlotte Bourgeais

My name is Charlotte Bourgeais, and I'm an au pair from France. I volunteered as a cheerleading coach from August 1st 2015 to November 1st 2015 (around 100 hours) and from August 1st 2016 to November 1st 2016 (around 100 hours).

I cheered in France for 5 years and coached my own team in Toulouse, France. When I was looking at host family profiles, my heart soared for a picture of a little girl in her cheerleading uniform. They became my host family. After a month in the USA, my host mom got me into coaching my host kid's cheerleading team!

It has been quite challenging for my English, as I had to do two cheerleading clinics in order to get my Pop Warner cheerleading coach certification. Then I did a first season as an assistant coach for a Tiny Mighty Mites team, where I learned all about sidelines cheers and football.

I didn’t know anything about U.S. football before, so my host parents taught me the rules of football. We cheered for Amity football on Sunday mornings, and we had practices during the week to get ready for our competitions. Tiny but mighty, we showed off at two Pop Warner competitions.

I was responsible to manage the entire practice, and I choreographed the competition routine. I learned how to teach tumbling, stunting and dancing skills to 5–9-year-old girls. It was so much work. I thought we would never be ready for competition, but when my girls took the mats, they were amazing! They made me so proud!

When the first season ended, I couldn’t believe it was over. I wanted to do it again! They needed me to coach the next season, my host family is wonderful, and without reservation, I extended my visa for 12 months.

This time, I was the head coach and even better, my host mom became my team mom! She was an amazing helper, and we made a great team. I also had my very helpful student demonstrator, who was a lovely high school student.

Once again, we did our Sundays football games, and I choreographed the routine. It’s such an amazing experience to watch my little girls grow; in only a couple of days, I saw them do cartwheels that I just taught them how to do.

The best reward is during those 2 minutes and 30 seconds of routine at competition. Knowing how far we came, being able to watch them shine and seeing them perform, dance, stunt, tumble, smile and be confident. It’s my favorite moment.

After two years, my suitcase is packed with cheerleading bows, shirts, competition sweaters and other cheer goodies. Cheerleading guided my life and made my U.S. experience unforgettable. I coached cheerleading in the USA, and this was beyond my dreams. I’m so thankful for it and all the wonderful people who met me on that path!


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Charlotte and her host mom

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Waiting for cheer time at a football game

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Esther Roth

When I came to the USA, I decided to apply for a voluntary service, because I knew from my former volunteering how happy it made me from the people and animals I spent time with. After a few weeks, I finally found a position as a mathematics tutor for a girl in third grade, which combined my interests in teaching, spending time with a child, and mathematics. At first I felt a bit insecure because English is not my first language, but my student said that for being tutored in math, she would be glad to trade her English skills with me.

Since the beginning of December, 2016, we have met every Tuesday. The first thing we do is talk about our weekend and a lot about her family. She lives with her younger brother, father and grandmother, who were born in China. After our chitchatting, we go through her homework and repeat the new topics she learned in school.

I know that it is hard for some children to understand and remember mathematic rules, so I try to describe them to her as true-to-life as possible, so she gets more interested in the subject. When I first met her, I noticed that she was very quiet and that she forgot a lot of the things she learned in school.

I found out that she does not talk a lot at home either, and that she does not have many friends, so it became important to me to be a person she can talk to and also have fun with. After a while, she started talking and remembering more and more. Her grandmother and I have a good relationship, and she talks very openly about her grandchild. She said that not only her math skills, but even her English has improved because she has conversations with me. This made me so happy and proud!

As a part of my college course, I gave a presentation to my host child's elementary school class about my home country, Germany. The children loved my presentation, and they learned interesting things about my home country, like our language, our population and which food Germans love. I tried to make it as interesting and funny as I would have liked it, if I was in third grade.

Since cultural exchange is very important to me, I encourage my math student to talk about China. I try to encourage this by telling her fun facts about Germany and giving her gifts from time to time, like German chocolate. Her grandmother gave me an orange, a typical Chinese present for the Chinese New Year, which is just another example of an encouraging action that she observes. This little exchange is super exciting for us, so I asked her teacher if I could hold a presentation in her class as well, and fortunately, this will happen in the middle of May.

Additionally, I applied to watch the class of my older host kids at a biking tour and at a visit in the J.F. Kennedy museum. I also reached out to the teacher of my younger host kids to ask, if I can give a Global Awareness Presentation in his class as well.


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Finn Klappert

My name is Finn Klappert, I'm 18 years old and from Germany. In my time as an au pair, I helped out refugees from different parts of Africa during my free time. It started from when my neighbor, a retired businessman, asked me if I want to watch a college soccer game with him, at the end of my first week in my new host family and second week for me in the States. I accepted thankfully, and he picked me up. What I didn't know at that time was, that we were picking up some refugees, too. We went out for dinner and watched the soccer game afterwards. That was the first time I met the refugees. I helped out later on, from September 2016 – February 2017.

The refugees are supported by an organization called World Relief. The organization chooses refugees and tries to get them a visa for the United States. If this step finds success, they book a flight for the refugees and find apartments for them. The refugees get financial support in the first month of their stay in the U.S., but they are required to take ESL classes, taught by the organization, and they need to find a job in the first month to afford the rent and food with their own money from the second month on.

I basically drove them to soccer games and to church every week, sometimes doctor appointments or something similar. We took them out for lunch or invited them for a nice dinner. We collected cloths and shared them with the refugees. Especially in the winter time, it was hard to find gloves, shoes and jackets for the kids and babies. But we asked people from church to offer old clothes that don't fit anymore, and then we sorted the different sizes and gave them to the refugees.

We tried to help them understand more about how things work in America, and it also helped me a lot.

We didn't work for any organizations like World Relief for example. We just got a bit of information every time a new refugee came in town like a name and, in best cases, a number of the apartment room. So, what we did to welcome new refugees was, first of all, to find them. They all moved in a big apartment complex with different buildings, so the first step was to find the right building and then the right room, which can be difficult if you just know a name. After we found the room, we introduced ourselves to the refugees and got suspicious views back most of the time. A lot of refugees wondered why an American man and a German boy they never met before were welcoming them to the U.S. and taking them out to lunch.

One day we took out three Muslims from Somalia for lunch. We just got their names and knew they arrived in the U.S. three days before. We found out that two of them are married, and both have 3 children and their wives still in Somalia. They don't have an opportunity to contact them. One of the refugees told us that pirates broke into his house back in Somalia and hit the back of his head with the barrel of an AK-47. Since that attack, he can't see clearly, because a part of his brain got injured. He will never be able to read a menu in a restaurant again or the time on his phone. This day taught me to never judge a person as long as you don't know his story. I just feel it's the right thing to help them and make them happy, because if they are happy, we did a successful job and it keeps us doing it.


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MO

Yifan Zhou

Au pair from China living with a host family in Missouri.

CA

Mara Ambruoso

Au pair from Italy living with a host family in California.

VA

Maria De La Torre

Au pair from Mexico living with a host family in Virginia.

TX

Melina Welker

Au pair from Germany living with a host family in Texas.


Yifan Zhou

I volunteered at Equine-Assisted Therapy. This charity is designed to help disabled kids to do some horse riding in order to gain the balance and exercise on their muscle. It is just like the agency name: assisted therapy. It's like physical therapy, but it's a little different.

Kids are influenced by a horse rather than by physical therapy machinery. The different environment and the warmth and rhythmic movement of a horse can be used to achieve therapeutic goals—which is very cool!

In there, I volunteered as a sidewalker. I would hold kids' one foot on the side and keep them stable on the horse and hand them some training toys for them to practice.

The most memorable thing is when I helped a kid who is unable to talk, with very soft muscle and a very shy personality. When it came to the time for her to hold the plastic ring and aim to a target, she refused, cried, and wanted to get off the horse. She kicked my hands (I was holding her ankle) and wanted to get rid of my hands. This shocked the horse, so the horse began trotting. I kept holding her ankle and leg and ran with the horse to keep her still. The other sidewalker and the leader calmed the horse down. I tried very hard to calm the kid down even as she was keep kicking my shoulder and almost my face.

At last we safely stopped the horse and got the kid off the it. Her parents thanked us so much, and I could see there were tears in her mom's eyes. I know it is very hard for the kid to be able to walk by herself again, but it must be harder for the parents to take care of her.

What I learned from this experience is there are a lot of special kids in this world. They are innocent, they are in need, and they are struggling to improve their life quality. We can't take what we have for granted. We should help them and be more appreciated for what we have. Keep it in mind and be kind to everyone.

On a cultural note, it was the first time I heard about horse riding therapy. I think it is a different culture thing, because in China, we don't use horses for physical therapy. Lastly, I want to say that in America, there are more chances to experience different things, which is amazing through my 20 years of age. It's a precious thing with unforgettable memories for me, so I will continue seizing the day and life here. Thank you, Au Pair in America, for giving me this chance.


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Mara Ambruosa

Hi! I am Mara from Italy. I am doing this amazing experience as an au pair in San Francisco! After some months here in the USA, I felt I can do more to improve myself and especially to help others less lucky than me.

For one day almost every week, I go to the Cystic Fibrosis Association. Why did I choose this? You have to know that one of my host kids has cystic fibrosis, and it is so heartbreaking to see her every day doing long treatments and therapy without being able to do anything for her!

So, I decided I could help her. Of course, I can't make her feel better, but at least I can help in raising money for the research and adding to her and millions of other kids tomorrows!

I usually help with all the little things the association makes for the donors or the events they organize, for example to send postcards or to prepare the prizes for the raffles, etc. etc. In March, for their big gala, I was at the coat check, and my host family and my host kid's doctors were there, too! It has been very meaningful for me and made me feel I am really doing something nice for my little princess—even if she prefers to be a dinosaur!


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Maria De La Torre

My name is Maria De La Torre. I'm from Mexico, and I'm in my second year, so in the upcoming months I'll be concluding this wonderful experience as an au pair. I'm in Virginia, and I've done different activities as a volunteer.

My first volunteering was at Global Links with an au pair cluster meeting in Pittsburg. We went there to help fold medical clothes and arrange them. It was truly interesting to learn how that organization worked with other companies to help the people in need. It was an exciting experience, because I got to know other au pairs and work as a team with them. Plus, I felt so blessed to be able to aid the ones that need it the most.

After that, I and my friend Cristy made a presentation about Mexico for Global Awareness at The Village School for Children in Waldwick, New Jersey. We talked about our holidays: the Mexican Revolution, the Day of the Dead and how we celebrate Christmas, among other things. I was glad to be able to share a piece of my culture with them.

At first, I was somewhat worried, because I didn't know what to expect. I wondered what image would they have about Mexico. It was amusing to see how those children reacted at the toys I'd brought, like the bolero and the Mexican doll.

As a token of gratitude to the class for the opportunity they gave us, we gifted them the bolero so the kids could play with it. We also gave them a flag with our names on it, and Au Pair in America and Global Awareness names on it as well. The children were attentive, well-behaved and so cute. Doing this volunteering helped those kids to be more open minded about how different the cultures can be, and how we, despite our differences, are part of the same wonderful world.

Finally, I went with my host mom to the Hilda M. Barg Homeless Prevention Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, to volunteer in a kitchen, make sandwiches, serve dinner and talk with the people in need. It was beautiful to see their bright smiles of gratefulness. We prayed for the dinner and for other people in need. My favorite part was to talk with the people of the shelter and get to know their stories first hand. They reminded me to value my life.

I learned so much about the American way of life. I don´t know any other nation who likes as much to make community, volunteering work and change the world for better.

One of my favorite quotes is from the renowned Winston Churchill: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Volunteering is important to me because giving yourself to others is a great way to grow as a human being. Now I can say I've concluded my experience as an au pair. Today I have the motivation to give so much more to this world and keep working to help it be a better place to live.


Melina Welker

My volunteering experience at Agape Resources and Assistance Center, Inc. here in the States started more as a coincidence than on purpose. While my host kids (ages 5, 9, 13, 13, 15 &18) are all in school in the morning, I would usually go to the gym, read, watch TV… but I thought I could make better use of my free time.

I shared my thoughts with my host mom, and she told me that her friend Janet runs a non-profit organization. She added that there would be a fundraiser, and her friend recently told her that she could use some help.

When I met with Janet, she explained what their mission at Agape Resources & Assistance Center, Inc. was all about. She explained further that it is a non-profit organization providing housing and life skills that empower single women and their children to transform from homelessness, crisis and poverty to self-sustaining, fulfilling lives. To raise money, there would be a fundraiser, and that’s where I came in to help.

My work included excessive research about important inventions, moments, women suffrage, the Great Depression, Prohibition, fashion, music, everything that happened in the time period between 1900 and 1950, to support the gala's motto, "Timeless Love." I also helped coordinate and set up the venue the day of the event.

The day of the gala I helped setting everything up with all the people from the office. Since the motto was "Timeless Love" everyone had to come in appropriate attire. My host mom helped me getting ready, which I loved! I got to borrow one of her 1920s-style dresses, since I didn't have one. She and her husband got invited too, because she has been a sponsor from the beginning.

The gala was a great success. There was time appropriate food, live music, and gambling with fake money in regard of the Roaring 20s. It was evident that the guests were enjoying themselves.

Janet even pointed out my work, which made me even prouder. Seeing my hard work of almost five months on the walls and knowing that it DID make an impact made me feel very accomplished and proud. I got to help people in need and at the same time had the privilege to educate myself further.

I can only encourage everyone to volunteer. Even if it is not with this organization, find one that you are passionate about. It is an opportunity to help people, who might not be able to afford some help otherwise. You never know the impact it has on someone’s life—and in turn, the impact it has on your own life!


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HI

Miriam Carod Royo

Au pair from Spain living with a host family in Hawaii.

MN

Natalie Fritsch

Au pair from Germany living with a host family in Minnesota.

AZ

Nitzan Lavi

Au pair from Israel living with a host family in Arizona

PA

Paula Kaça Guimarães

Au pair from Brazil living with a host family in Pennsylvania.


Miriam Carod Royo

How would you feel if you could always snorkel at the best beach in the United States? Amazing, right? I’m talking about Hanauma Bay, a beach in the Hawaiian island of Oahu, just 20 minutes away from my house. This crystalline water contains the most wonderful fish and reef that you will ever see with species such as the endangered green sea turtle, the pufferfish, the needlenose fish and even Moray eels.

Now, what if told you this place is so popular that the daily visitors put all this paradise in danger? Not such great news, right? This got me thinking the very first time I visited the bay, since first-time visitors are required to watch an informative video about the park. I felt like something so special and breathtakingly beautiful should be protected at all costs, and I did my research to know how I, an au pair from Spain, could help—even if my contribution was little.

I informed myself and found out there is a volunteering organization called Friends of Hanauma Bay that seeks its conservation. I have been helping out since my arrival in the island, more than one year ago, and I still do as much as I can.

Most of the volunteer work I do are clean-ups. I enjoy going to these encounters. I meet people with the same interests and concerns I have, I share my experience and give advice to people doing it for the first time, and I raise awareness amongst my host kids and friends regarding the needs that this nature preserve requires.

Some of the perks of this amazing volunteering experience? I received a free training session about every single aspect of the park, and once a month I get to go on guided snorkel trips or hikes in the area. Moreover, I have learned so much about the species in this place. I have even discovered there are red under-sea urchins, something totally new for me! And the best is, I am an expert on Hanauma Bay!!

For all of those thinking of volunteering, I suggest you do it! It’s a fullfilling experience that enriches you in so many ways. Totally worth it!!


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Natalie Fritsch

When school for my kids started again last September, I suddenly had a lot of free time. As I was trying to figure out how to keep myself busy, I realized that I wanted to spend at least part of my time doing something useful for others. That's when I found out about Feed My Starving Children. “Founded in 1987, FMSC is a Christian non-profit that provides nutritionally complete meals specifically formulated for malnourished children.” They're funded by donations and mostly run by volunteers.

I decided to give it a try. When I got there, one of the employees gave us volunteers an introduction about the process of the food packing and showed us some scenes about Haiti, where the food was going to be sent since it was still devastated from hurricane Matthew only a few weeks earlier. It was really depressing, especially to see all the little children so skinny from hunger, but encouraged me in my decision to come here.

Finally, everybody grabbed a hairnet, washed their hands and went into the packing room. There were different tasks to choose from, scooping ingredients, holding bags, weighing them or putting labels onto them. I know it doesn't sound like a lot of fun at first, but I talked a lot to the people there and since we all had the same goal it created some kind of a solidarity between all of us. It was fun, because it was almost like a competition about who can help the most by packing meals in high speed.

Afterwards, we were told how many boxes of food we packed and how many people this amount was actually going to help. We were shown some pictures of children receiving their meals and how unbelievable happy it made them. It was really impressive to see how much even a small group of people can do, and it made me proud to be part of it. I volunteered for a couple hours each week for a couple of months.

The volunteering experience helped me a lot in understanding. First of all, it made me aware of the urgency for help in a lot of countries, and it helped me to empathize with those in need. It made me appreciate more and more what I do have and that I shouldn't take anything for granted. Apart from that, I think that most people are somehow aware of all the grievances in the world, but they don’t feel like a part of it or don"t think that they, as a single person, can change anything.

FMSC showed me that even small amounts of money and a couple of hours of your time can actually change a lot and even save lives. It taught me that it doesn't matter where you are from, how old you are or how much money you have, if you stick together with the people that fight for the same thing as you, you can reach a lot and improve the living conditions of many humans.


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Nitzan Lavi

My name is Nitzan, and I came to the United States as part of the Au Pair in America program four months ago. My intention was to improve my English, as this is not my first language, and furthermore, to learn about the American culture. If you had asked me before I arrived how I was going to achieve this goal, I would say by taking the time to read books and talk with children, like it was at the start of my journey. However, after a few days when I started to meet people around me, I discovered a charming and welcoming Jewish community. This group of people had common intentions, while being there for one another in achieving their goals. As I was continuing to engage with this group, I saw that they were yearning to learn my language and the Israeli culture as well.

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I would never have imagined I could be part of Jewish community in the United States. I came from the "Land of the Jews." I wanted to experience something different and new. Pretty soon, I realized that being a part of this community was a privilege, and that there was no better way to learn about American culture, than to immerse myself fully!

So, I started to teach Hebrew school at Beit Tefila Synagogue. Currently every Sunday, I teach the kids about Hebrew letters and words, ending with thoughtful activities. For example, art projects that connect with the culture of Israel, which is near and dear to my heart.

After a few weeks, the principal of the Hebrew School asked me to lead a lecture about Israel to their middle schoolers. When I finished, one student raised his hand and asked how my English was so good? At that exact and pivotal moment, I realized this adventure and achieving this goal I had been craving was becoming my reality! Not only was I accomplishing my goals, but walking away with so much more.

In my hometown, I was in Scouts for nine years, so I went to an Israeli Scouts that works very close to me and led activities like those that I know from Israel. Then at this time, I was led to the Moishe House.

The Moishe House brings the vibrant, young professional Jewish community together to participate in engaging, social, cultural, religious, and philanthropic events. I quickly connected with people, and after a while, I took part in planning events and recruiting more people to join! This month, for example, I am responsible for the Israeli Independence Day party and communal Shabbat dinner.

I was thriving, being a part of this community I never knew existed and provided such fulfillment in my life! I was now feeling I was a part of something bigger than myself, with the entire community, as an active part of the synagogue, as well as with Jewish professionals my age.

Through volunteering, I discovered the most amazing way to experience America—by connecting with people! It is as simple and spectacular as that. I discovered an amazing community and made friends for life. I can honestly say that without these experiences life has given me here, I would not be where I am today, feeling the connection I do with this beautiful world around me.


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Paula Kaça Guimarães

The art of volunteering is a joy that only those who have had experience can say how rewarding it can be to help those who need it. A simple gesture can change someone's life and put a smile on the face of those who have sometimes given up hope.

My name is Paula and I'm Brazilian. I graduated in culinary school, and I have worked with recreation. One of the ways I like to contribute is doing what I love, cakes and sweets for children's parties. One of the most memorable moments that I can remember, every time I have the opportunity to help, is to see the look of thankfulness and the smile emblazoned on each one's face. Help for sure brings me a cheerful spirit and makes me a better person.

Since I was little, I always liked helping people and volunteering at events. I started the Au Pair program in 2015. It is an incredible experience, where I can share with people the culture of my country and still learn new things and develop other skills helping others.

I find the initiative of the Americans very beautiful.  I have learned a lot with the culture and what it is to live in a community. I live in a small town called Bethlehem. It is a beautiful place, where there are always festivals that allow me to be part and learn a little more of the history of this wonderful country.

During this time I was able to help in the church on the mission week where I am a part of and volunteer to distribute food at a charity event. Being part and being able to help in another country is something incredible. It has brought me an experience that in a few years I will be able to share with my children—the incredible moments that I live.

I also helped at a party, and with my skills I made a cake and cupcakes. The birthday girl is a fan of Harry Potter, so I made the talking hat of the movie. Her joy at seeing the cake brought me an inexplicable feeling of gratitude. Volunteering is something I believe everyone should do at least once in their lives, helping someone in need can make a difference in anyone's life without your knowing it.


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NC

Rebekah Turley

Au pair from the UK living with a host family in North Carolina.

DC

Tatiana Mayorga

Au pair from Ecuador living with a host family in Washington, DC.

Thank you all for your community service.

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


Rebekah Turley

This is me. My name is Rebekah Katie Turley. I currently live as an au pair in Charlotte, North Carolina. I have been volunteering at Elevation Church, which has many campuses but is situated in the heart of North Carolina. I have been volunteering as part of their welcome team, setting up and packing down before and after services and just in general helping out. I volunteer every Wednesday evening and on Sundays each week and have been doing this since I moved here in February. I will continue this until it is time for me to go home.

I have been volunteering at Elevation Church since the first week of me moving to North Carolina. I knew about the church before I moved out here, so I knew it was the church I was going to go to. I went and visited the first week and have been volunteering on Wednesday evenings at their weekly service called Mid Week and on Sundays at the uptown campus ever since.

I love church and feel so much more at home here. The people at church have really welcomed me and helped me settle in here. They have definitely made it a lot easier for me, especially as I suffered really bad the first few weeks I was here with home sickness. I was feeling ready to quit and go home, but the church really helped me through that.

We always hang out at the weekends and do regular social events. My favorite has been being a part of a team together and promoting church. Just last weekend, we all hung out at the local park and played volleyball—which I loved!

I have learnt so much more about the American culture just by hanging out with these people at church and fitting in and being a part of their everyday life. It is so important that I wanted to be a part of volunteering in the community as part of church, because I have a real passion for Jesus. I thought that would have been the hardest part about moving away from home, being apart from my church family back home and finding the right church. However, being here feels like a new home with a new family that I fit perfectly into, and I love it! I don't think I would have enjoyed this experience of being an au pair as much if I hadn't had joined the church. I feel it has had a huge impact on my time here.


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Tatiana Mayorga

This experience as an au pair has been unbelievable, because I’m living wonderful moments in different areas. I live and share my customs with American people and meet people from around the world.

I have got the great opportunity to volunteer in Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School, where I have learned innovative things with kids. Its mission is creating a self-directed learning environment in which children build a foundation of knowledge essential for a lifetime of learning, while developing literacy in English and Spanish.

The time that I have been attending to this school, I have been learning innovative strategies. For instance, the Montessori school's method is not used in my city; it's not the old technique where the kids pay attention at the same time to the teacher. It will help me to develop new activities for children in the classroom. Also, I have been teaching them to analyze the lecture, reading or some educational activities in Spanish. I am glad when they try to do the best and every week I can realize the progress.

I have also worked along with psychologists and supported them in the activities on the program targeted to incredible years in the children’s classroom. It is about steps to help children heighten values, find solutions if there are problems and increase their self-esteem. It is very important to have this knowledge and these abilities, because I can implement everything that I have learned in my city.

Additionally, I have been attending to Family Place, helping Latin people with Spanish and English. They support women who suffered violence. Children can stay there while their parents take classes. In effect, I am part of a group of women who have suffered violence. I help the psychologist to give a talk on different topics where they develop their skills and use the best tools to improve their self-esteem, and the most important, give counselling.

Through volunteering, I have learned new tactics and topics where I can help my community and give ideas for helping children and adults. Moreover, I feel fulfilled by everything that I have learned until this day.


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About the contest:

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.

Prizes

National Winners

1st Place received a $500 Amazon gift card
2nd Place received a $250 Amazon gift card
3rd Place received a $150 Amazon gift card

State Winners
Each state winner received a $50 Amazon gift card

Submissions:

  • Each au pair submitted a short essay (maximum 500 words) describing her volunteer experience.

Note: Au pairs had to be prepared to submit verification from a representative at the organization/organizations with which they volunteered, upon request.

Entry deadline

All entries were submitted by Monday, May 1st, 2017, to qualify for the contest.

Recognition:

All winning entries received Au Pair in America recognition and press recognition, as well as awards for their efforts and achievements.

US Office for host families

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E-mail

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