America's First Au Pair Program

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2019 Au Pair Community Service Awards!

Au Pair in America is proud to announce our 2019 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

VA

Martyna Nowacka

Au pair from the United Kingdom living with a host family in Washington, D.C.

CT

Alexandra Elias

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

CA

Lina Motta Barrera

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

Martyna Nowacka

Since I came to the USA for the second time, as a return au pair, I knew I wanted to volunteer. It seemed like a great idea to be actually involved in an American community and meet people other than only other au pairs.

I was searching through all the opportunities online and had some trouble to find an ongoing thing that would fit my schedule. And then I saw an advertisement that my favorite non-profit organization that turns out to be an international hostel community is looking for volunteers who’d be tour guides in my city. Exciting? I was over the moon! And that’s how after a few weeks I officially became a tour guide in Washington, DC, for Hostelling International.

Since then I have met a lot of interesting people. Just this week I had an opportunity to lead a “Cherry Blossom tour” and surprise surprise, I got a Japanese tourist! Teaching her about American history with her country was quite funny for me, especially when I kept on mispronouncing the names of Japanese ambassadors. But what makes me laugh the most is when I lead tours for actual American people! Telling them all that information about their capital is just a great irony that I really enjoy: me, Polish girl able to teach locals about their history. Also it’s very stressful since I’m terrified of making a mistake that they could notice!

What did I learn from volunteering with HI? Well, definitely the sense of responsibility without getting any material gain from it. There are days I’m very tired or just lazy and really would like to skip that tour. But then I realize that there are some people counting on me, some people who actually would like to participate in a tour and I have to respect it and give all of my efforts to make it happen. What helps is the fact that I know how disappointing it is to be a tourist and have your tour cancelled. I’ve been there and don’t want to put other people in that position!

Also I made some friends. It turns out that there is another au pair who volunteers for the hostel! We became very good friends and now we do tours together as a duet of tour guides sometimes! It’s very cool. Plus I get so much knowledge about other countries, cultures, etc. from all the tourists that I just could chat with them for hours! They all add me on social media and with some of them I’m still in touch!

And then I couldn’t forget about why I came here , to the USA, in the first place. To get to know the country! It amazes me that at this moment in my life I’m completely able to move around the capital of the United States and show to other people this amazing city. It also amazes me that I learnt so many facts about this place and I can share them with others. I think that if any au pair can do it about their place of stay, they could gladly say, "I lived in the United States."

Somehow this volunteering opportunity transformed me from a regular foreigner to a LOCAL. I am so proud of myself, for how far I’ve come with my English, knowledge about America and willingness to share it with others. And if that also gives travellers a chance to experience this country with me, saves them some time on being lost or money on tour guides, buses, etc., then oh well, I’m in!

Alexandra Elias

Hello beautiful world,

My name is Alexandra Elias and I am from Hungary.

I arrived to the United States at the end of 2017. My host family lives in Hawaii, on Oahu. I probably do not have to say that the island is amazing. The mountains, the ocean are both stunning and the local people are spreading the aloha vibe all around the island.

Since I arrived to Hawaii, I started to spend more time close to nature and pay more attention to the ocean, the plastic pollution, the animals and the plants. As I find myself content and the happiest in nature I wanted to help keep it clean and safe and encourage other people to do exactly the same.

I started to go down to the beach after I finished watching the children almost every day to pick up some trash. I collected all different kinds of trash. Mainly plastic: bags, cups, lids, forks, bottles, etc.

Later on I joined a special beach clean up. Me and at least another 20 people pulled invasive algae out of the ocean. That was my very first time working with other people and it was such a great experience. Making friends while doing something great is just what everyone needs.

Then my solo after-work beach clean ups continued. On afternoon I was going to do my usual activity when I saw a monk seal sleeping on the shore few feet away from me. He slept so peacefully and I thought he must be super happy. Then I looked around and I saw pieces of trash around him. Not one. Many. It made me sad.

Seeing the seal with trash around, I knew that I want to help and get involed as much as I can. I decided to join an organization called 808cleanups, and I started working with other people. My first team clean up happened in Kaakao Waterfront Park, where we collected 100 pound of trash in less than two hours. Then I joined the following Sunday again and we cleaned up Palolo District Park. I scrubbed off the graffiti from the climbing frames at the playground and I picked two bucket of trash from all around the park . The next Sunday we went to Pu’u o Kaimuki Mini Park. We collected trash, cut out invasive plants and cut overgrown grass.

Meanwhile, I made so many new friends. We are completely different and we come from different places, but our mindset is the same. These people care about our environment; they are willing to spend two hours of their lives to help, and I truly believe that it is something beautiful. In that two hours we spend cleaning up we become one big family with the same goal.

Doing something good for this island, for nature, truly makes me happy. I am trying my best to help others see why cleaning up is important and how they can help. Since then, some of my friends got involved. Some of them started to be more aware, and they pick up trash wherever they go. Little steps make a big difference.

I am planning to continue this activity once my visa expires and I will have to move back to Hungary. Let's make this planet clean again.

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Lina Motta Barrera

During my time in the United States of America, I have learned that being a volunteer is one of the most amazing and important things you need to do in your life. In fact, my thought about volunteering changed. That action is really amazing. It lets us understand that life is not about just making money. It is about being a good and kind person without wanting anything back. This is something that has been helping me to grow up as a human being. For instance, I realized I love to be a leader. I like to teach and help people. It has allowed me to figure out what I want to do when my Au Pair year is over.

As a volunteer at Family Centers, a non-profit organization, I have been educating around 100 adult immigrants focusing on Sustainable Development Goals, Recycling, Skip Plastic and English as a second language. Everything started with a workshop. First, the students learned about the United Nation and the SGDs. Indeed, we explained to them thoroughly what those goals mean and gave them examples about it, with the purpose of a better understanding.

During the second part, the students were taught how they should recycle at home. A previous research about the recycling process in five different towns—Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, New Canaan and Darien—helped me to teach the students to recycle correctly and subsequently to make a positive impact in their communities. In effect, with examples of some of the most frequent articles people usually buy in the store, the students were able to recognize where those articles should be put: if they should be inside of the recycling bin or inside of the trash bin. During this session, the students also were encouraged to skip using single-use plastics. They were requested to stop using plastic bags by giving them reusable bags, in order to stop producing trash as well.

After the workshop, 20 people have been part of my team. We meet frequently and talk about the problems they have had doing the recycling. We discussed some solutions as a team. We asked some companies for reusable shopping bag donation and we provide them to other students so they can also make positive impact on our planet. In addition, we continue educating them. We visited the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) in Stamford, CT. We learned more about the recycling process and wastewater treatment. All those activities have contributed to achieve the SDGs number 4, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17.

Listening my students start speaking English, or recognizing how they have impacted their own communities by explaining to relatives, neighbors or coworkers about what they can do to change habits to help our planet are some of the most memorable moments working as a volunteer. Those moments are unique. Those let me know how my efforts have been worth it because the knowledge is spreading out. Start small, think big!


State Winners

Mizgin Duran

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

Ciska De Hoop

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

Xiomara Diaz Agudelo

Au pair from Colombia living with a family in Ohio.

Namprathai Mongkutwisut

Au pair from Thailand living with a family in Florida

Mizgin Duran

My name is Mizgin and I am an Au Pair in the beautiful state of Arizona. Together with my amazing host family I am living in the outskirts of Litchfield Park, a suburb of Phoenix. Our house is surrounded by agricultural fields, and when I first arrived I could see watermelons growing just across the street, something I had never seen before.

Since I am not much of a party girl and am living on the very edge of town where there isn’t any hurly-burly anyway, I decided to look for an opportunity to volunteer. I wanted to volunteer not only to do something good and collect unforgettable memories, but also to come in contact with American citizens who can teach me more about their culture, their livelihood and their life in the United States.

Since the beginning of October I am volunteering every Saturday in the Marbil Nursery, a family-owned nursery close by. I get to help customers find the right plant, water many of the numerous trees and flowers, and help plant new plants. Every Saturday is like a vacation day for me, because I truly love being surrounded by so many beautiful plants and enjoy every second of the work I get to do. But it’s not only the work that makes my Saturdays so special, it is also the people I get to meet.

I have found true friends in the owners Bill and Martha, an elderly couple. They have not only taught me how to properly plant, water and take care of plants, but also taught to me about their life and their experiences and gave me a lot of advice, which I am truly grateful for. For me, Bill and Martha are a true inspiration to take my chances and make the most of my life.

The customers make my volunteer work even better. I had numerous encounters where I got asked where I am from and what I do in the US. Many customers had never heard the word au pair before and asked me more about my profession, the process and seemed genuinely interested in that topic.

My volunteering has given me the opportunity to widen my horizon, learn new things that I didn’t think I could (I may learn how to weld next week!) and make lifelong friends. I am incredibly happy about my volunteering experience.


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Ciska De Hoop

My name is Ciska de Hoop and this is my volunteer story! When I came here on 3 October 2018 in America (Novato in California to be precise), I was determined to find something to keep me busy. But I wanted to do something that made me feel good and happy, something small that made a difference in other people's or pets' lives. This made me want to do volunteer work.

Since I love animals, I decided to apply volunteering at the animal shelter near me. The animal shelter, Marin Humane, is an organisation that keeps dogs, birds, cats and SCA (small companion animals, a hamster for example) in their shelter until they are adopted. I loved all the animals, but my biggest love went to the cats. I wanted to be a "cat pet pal." This is someone who observes cat behaviour but also pets them, of course! This is to make them more comfortable until they are being adopted. Sadly there was no need for a pet pal when I started, so I said that I'll help where help was needed. At the moment I am cleaning the cat rooms every Monday from 8:15 AM until 10:15/10:45 AM. And of course I am petting the cats while doing that, because everybody is in need of a bit of love!

Talking about love, Love Is The Answer, those are the words LITA stands for. LITA is my second volunteer job, and very important for me. I know that a LOT of elderly people are lonely. Being lonely is afwul, and I think every au pair can relate to that. So by being someone to play games with, someone to talk to and being a friend to an old lady makes me less lonely but also gives me a great feeling. I meet her every Friday from 10 AM until 11:30 AM. Longer is not suitable, because after a while the old lady falls into her dementia and repeats a lot of words and sentences. Sometimes you can see she is really trapped in her mind, and that is sad to see. One day I went there, and she said she did not know me, and told me that there was a volunteer coming for her at 10 AM every Friday, so I needed to go. She did not remember that I was that volunteer. I told her that the volunteer was me, and she did not believe me. She said that the other volunteer came there for years! Before me, she never had a volunteer, so in some kind of way, she did remember me. Not wanting to make her more confused, I left that time. But knowing that the old lady remembered me, in a way, made me feel grateful.

This was my story and these are a few pictures I have. I don't have a lot, because of privacy and because i'm pretty busy while doing volunteer work, so I'm not taking that time for making videos and a lot of photos. I hope it's enough to show other aupairs how awesome volunteer work is!


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Xiomara Diaz Agudelo

My experience in the United States through Au pair in America has impacted me more than I could have imagined. It has shown me a new self who is capable of opening up freely to new opportunities, and by this I mean that I could demand of myself to find a way to learn how to speak and make myself understood in another language.

My best experience is in Ohio, a quiet and familiar state, which transformed an instant in which I felt alone, made me more interested in others, since many people prefer to reach the USA. To change your current situations, make it a new life expectancy and leave behind bad memories. Being part of all this, I opened my imagination much more; it became very important to me, because now I am part of a bigger change in society.

It all started because my host mother, who is the pastor of the Church in Spanish, and now my friend, shared a bit of her life in the church (Vineyard), telling me how this would help me meet people my age, share a little time with them as my host family, and change my routine into something motivating and special.

Vineyard has an organization to help the community, where people with different difficulties can come. There you can find everything from food, doctors, and classes (such as  English, financial education, and Microsoft courses, among others) to lawyers; all the services offered in this place are free and beneficial.

I volunteered at the healing center as a speaker (connector) between Spanish and English. I was able to help all the Hispanic, American, Asian and other communities. I was able to attend this place after some training, on Thursdays or Saturdays, to do my work and find all kinds of help that many times people fear to say or insecurity they prefer not to talk about.


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Namprathai Mongkutwisut

Hello, this is my brief background for myself. My name is Namprathai Mongkutwisut. I am 26 years old, and I am from Thailand, the land of smiles and delicious Thai food. I have been here in the USA as an Aupair for 15 months, since January 2018.

Being a volunteer in a variety of activities is the happiest memory in my life, especially volunteering with friends in Christ. I’m a Christian, who grown up with a Christian family. When I was a child, I went to church every week on a regular basis. I saw my parents, they both   volunteered   in the church, took care of people, and did outreach in many communities. Some places were on the mountains or in the woods. At that time, I only felt that it was fun for me and my little brother to enjoy traveling and playing in different places, especially when we had a chance to play in the water in the river, or pick flowers, but I didn’t really feel satisfied with myself when we received the happiness from those people around me.

Back then, I was a volunteering parents’ kid who followed them everywhere they went. Until one day I felt my real life has begun. I started to travel by myself, far away from my house; I left my home town for studying in the big city, and also I was a nerdy girl, who spent most of my teenager life   studying and studying. I couldn’t even remember how was my most memorable life with friends in school or friends in the church. All my memories were of exams, school, and the tuition in the evening time and on weekends . For   three years, I haven’t joined any camp, or done any volunteering except for school activities. Finally my life changed, because I was able to gain entrance in the good university (Top 3 university in the country). I reached my goal! I got my dream! After that I had to move to another big city, and one day I met an old friend. He is the one who enjoys traveling and volunteering, and   we   met in the camp where we both were volunteers.

He brought me to his church, and I followed him everywhere he went to join  volunteering. At that time my childhood memories came up into my mind; I missed my feelings and my life back then. Since that day, I started to join volunteering and be back again, more than I expected. I felt more valued myself and had more self-esteem. Now I can feel what my parents feel, I can feel what they have got from the people with whom   they participated as a volunteer.

My four years in the university were very smooth,  and I enjoyed myself in studying and volunteering at the same time in different activities such as being  the church camp-leader, church Sunday school leaders, English camp with foreign   volunteers from others countries, a school camp as a chef, the outreach leader in orphanage houses, deaf school, blind school, a teacher assistant at a kindergarten   for a month, and   teaching English in a small village on the mountains. I am very satisfied with myself and I have   peace in my life. I am able to smile in every situation, even  if I’m in   hard times. Because of volunteering, I can see “Life” in the people in different ages, I can see “hope” where I felt there is no hope for them, I can see “love” that I can’t get by money, and I see “myself.” I see my “real me”; I brought myself back since I got back to volunteering.

Now, I’m in the USA. I joined Northland church as a church member. I am a teacher assistant in the children’s ministries every week on a regular basis since November 2018, and I have a chance for teaching some easy activities and taking care of the preschool kids in the class, doing crafts, singing and dancing.  I have learned a lot of things such as   sign language, Bible verse, songs and prayers, all in English, and I feel my English skills are improving. Also when I talked and played with the preschool kids, they taught me a lot of American  kids’ words, and their life   experiences as   Americans kids. Sometimes I don’t understand what they  say, but I am trying to understand their words and the kids’ cool life activities.

Moreover, other church events I always schedule myself to join as much as I can because most of the activities are different from the activities I have joined. I joined the daddy daughter dance (on 1st March, 2019) and an egg  hunt on Easter. One of my most memorable volunteering experiences is the daddy daughter  dance. I had never experienced this kind of emotional daddy-daughter relationship activity. I was a photographer’s assistant;  I saw a thousand of dads and their daughters dressed up in very nice suits and dresses. I felt their love through the lens of their eyes and their   smiley faces when they were taking the photos. Even they didn’t say anything,  I could feel it. That night I   cried in my mind, I have a little tears in my eyes all the time. I missed my dad, and when I got back home, I called my daddy, and told him how much I love him and how great he is. I am so thankful that I have him in my life! This is my most true and memorable story in my life.


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Handrya Correa de Oliveira

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

Keyla Jimenez Vindas

Au pair from Costa Rica living with a host family in Massachusetts.

Ileana Del Rio Solis

Au pair from Mexico living with a family in Maryland

Laura Culbert

Au pair from Australia living with a family in North Carolina.

Handrya Correa de Oliveira

My name is Handrya and it has been more than a year since I moved to Baton Rouge, LA. Right after I got here (April/2018), I started going to this SDA church weekly and engaged in different volunteering activities, at least twice a month. One of the activities includes feeding homeless people in the downtown area, and that happens once a month.

Unfortunately, this city still has a lot of people, even children, living on the streets. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many people moved here from New Orleans. Sadly, not all of them were able to find jobs or provide for their families, which created a very unbalanced situation that affects the whole community.

As a Christian and someone who is already part of this city, I feel like it is a responsibility and an honor to be in a position where I can actually help them. The most memorable moment for me was when I sat down on the sidewalk with this lady and talked to her while she was eating the food we provided. She had been through so much stuff, and I felt blessed to be able to offer any physical and spiritual relief somehow, maybe just by listening and being there for her at that moment. Another memorable moment was when my host family came with me and participated in the outreach. It was special to have them there supporting our group, but more than that, serving the community we live in.

I have learned that regardless of where we are, there will always be people around us that need some kind of help. We just need to open our eyes and be available to do our part. Volunteering is important to me because it is one practical way of sharing love, being aware of the misfortunate and actually dedicating part of our time and resources to help those people without expecting anything in return. This has transformed me at so many levels! I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and mission that has been placed in our hands.


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Keyla Jimenez Vindas

'We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.' ~Mother Teresa

Many times, it is thought that volunteering involves only one-way interchange, but for me it is much more what volunteering gives to you than what each one personally contributes. Even if it is smaller, modest or simple, helping in any way will always be better than not to provide it.

Being a volunteer has been a fundamental part of my life for many years because the university that formed me is a pioneer in “social action” in my country, the University of Costa Rica. Personally, I have not found a better way to be part of the culture than participating in these volunteering opportunities. Both in Costa Rica and in the United States, volunteer sessions have allowed me to develop an ability to understand and adapt myself to the environment that surrounds me, participating actively in learning more about it.

Because of the big difference between the programs in which I have participated, I have developed and have learned in different fields, such as understanding the logistics involved in a gastronomic festival in another country; the importance of “human strength” (volunteers) in a large-scale sporting event; understanding, participating and sharing the importance of a holiday for a special part of the population; and finally, to be able to contribute with my "manpower" and knowledge in the area that I like the most, which is nature.

So far, I am greatly enjoying being part of the group of Live BlueTM Service Leaders (LBSC) in the New England Aquarium, because I can put into practice all the knowledge in my area of study (Costal ecology and biology) but also guide volunteers and make their experience the best so they enjoy and would continue to participate and be involved in their communities, as well as perfecting my English during the process and thus fulfill the goals that brought me to the United States.

Being part of all these projects has allowed me to meet people from different places, ages, professions, religions, and ways of thinking, among others. Each of the programs and institutions or organizations with which I have participated have allowed me to capture the best of them and to make, from each project, a special and unique experience, which is why I will always be immensely grateful for their allowing me to be part of their "human capital."

My experience as an au pair has allowed me to be part of the family culture that lives in this country. I have been able to meet brave women from different countries who have also left their homes to fulfill their dreams. Volunteering, as part of the same experience, has allowed me to apply my studies and learning even more about what I thought I knew. It has given me a different perspective of what community means for each individual and has developed in me a sense of belonging to what surrounds me, making me every day appreciate more this culture, this country and its many beliefs.


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Ileana Del Rio Solis

Hi! I’m Ileana, a 25-year-old au pair living with my lovely extension family in Maryland. I was looking forward to volunteering and I didn’t know how to start, but I was sure of one thing: I would sign up for an organization dealing with women’s rights in the Latino community since I consider myself a feminist, and as a Mexican, I love to stay close to my roots.

One Friday night I headed to DC in order to listen a talk by an Italian feminist who was in town. At the end of the event I met two women who belong to the staff of a program called “Entre Amigas” (Among Friends) that focuses on reproductive rights for women and domestic violence. They told me several au pairs had volunteered there before and I got excited. This program belongs to “La Clínica del Pueblo” (The House of the People), an organization that provides health services for the Latino community in the NW of DC.

I began volunteering as a graphic designer. I was expected to make flyers and attend two monthly workshops about popular education and capacitation to be a speaker about domestic violence talks. I got to know other volunteers, mostly women older than me who in a moment of their lives had suffered domestic violence and now they talk openly about it in order to raise awareness to other women and members of the community.

I designed the flyer for International Women’s Day this year, which we celebrated by providing information about the program Entre Amigas, women’s rights, food and surprises to the women in the neighborhood. I felt very happy to spread the word and party with them.

I also created the flyer for Denim Day 2019, during the sexual assault awareness month, for which I was deeply congratulated by all the staff and volunteers of the program. Sometimes it is difficult for me to commute one hour into DC, so I designed from home and this is how this flyer came to life.

All of my flyers have been featured in social media and later on pictures about the events have been uploaded, so it’s been very nice to see my efforts working.

The most touching moment I’ve had was a woman sharing in a group, “If it weren’t for this program, I wouldn’t know I have rights.” It really got to me how programs like this build a safe place for women, especially in these times. I feel very grateful for being able to learn from this woman about the difficulties and complexities about being Latina on the other side of the border. Thanks to the new friendships from my volunteering and the support of my host family, these past months I’ve come to experience American culture while getting involved and advocating for my heritage.


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Laura Culbert

During my year as an au pair, I was given a number of opportunities to volunteer. Having had to go into rematch after 5 months, I took up volunteering as a way to meet new people and to complete my UCLA Extension Course requirement. I volunteered for a few days at the Lake Norman Special Olympics and the Lake Norman Humane Society, both located in Mooresville, North Carolina.

However, it wasn’t until a few months after completing my education requirement that my host mum presented me with an opportunity to coach one of my host children’s soccer team at the local YMCA. I had never played or watched soccer before, but I love anything sports related and was under the impression there would be another coach to help out, so I agreed. It was going to be a 2-hour commitment each week for 8 weeks, 1 hour a week for training and the other hour for the game.

A week before training was to commence, I received my team list, and subsequently discovered I was the ONLY coach! The panic set in and I quickly began googling training drills for U8 soccer teams, trialing these with my two host kids each day after school.

Little did I know, coaching would be such a blessing in disguise when it came to bringing my host kids together and getting them active. As any au pair who has had host kids close in age could agree, it can be super tough to give both kids equal attention at the same time, in a way that they can both recognize, especially when one has special needs. Having never played soccer before, I was able to utilize my 8-year-old, who had played soccer for a few seasons, as my assistant coach for the 7-year-old soccer team, a role she absolutely loved and thrived in. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old thought it was pretty cool that his au pair was his soccer coach, and for me it was a nice change to take on the role of coach rather than au pair for a couple of hours a week.

The coaching opportunity also allowed me to make a positive impact in the community, especially in the US where sports are such a huge part of the culture. I was able to interact with the parents and their children on my team and also help bring together kids who didn’t know each other or weren’t friends before.

Volunteering was such a positive experience for me, especially the volunteering I did by choice, not as part of my education requirement. I would strongly recommend all au pairs to volunteer during their time in the US, even if it is just on a casual basis. It really makes the au pair experience so much more rewarding, especially when you can incorporate volunteering with your host kids. The kids will love it and love you even more for it, as will their parents!


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Clara Terlaak

Au pair from Germany living with a host family in New Jersey.

Fernanda Soares Cardoso

Au pair from Brazil living with a host family in New York.

Jessica Niese

Au pair from Germany living with a family in Rhode Island.

Jessica de Almeida Serrão

Au pair from Brazil living with a family in South Carolina.

Clara Terlaak

Hi! My name is Clara, and I am from Germany and currently am an au pair in New Jersey, where I live with a wonderful host family. My host kid is a 12-year-old girl who is very involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, one of them being Girl Scouts. We don’t have Girl Scouts in Germany, so I have always been interested in hearing what events and activities she had going on. So naturally, when her Girl Scout troop leader approached me in January asking if I’d be willing to help out with an event, I was curious to see what it was all about. Her leader told me that every year, the Girl Scouts organize the “World Thinking Day,” where Scouts from the area come together and present different countries to each other. They knew that I was from Germany, so they decided to dedicate their project this year to Germany.

Of course I was more than happy to be a part of this event. I volunteered to prepare a presentation about Germany together with my host kid, who got to be the “leader” for this event. I went to the next Girl Scout meeting where the girls could ask me all about my home country and where I could share inside information. I went to a German supermarket to buy authentic German food for them to try, and I asked my mom back in Germany to send me a package with traditional German things that can’t be bought here, like specific candy, etc. Along with basic information about the country, the main focus of the event was to present influential foreign women to the girls. That was my favorite part of it all, not only to share my culture with the Scouts, but also show these young girls that women all over the world can be powerful, strong and change the world for the better.

It was very fun to see how the girls put a lot of work into putting all the information I gave them on a poster and present it to younger and older girls on “World Thinking Day.” as well as for me to learn more about the American tradition of Girl Scouts.

Since March, I’ve also been volunteering at a local living facility for people with Dementia and Alzheimers, the “Millenium Memory Care.” My 12-year-old host kid spends a lot of her day at school, so I have quite a bit of free time during the day. I knew very early on that I wanted to do some kind of volunteer work during my stay here, but didn’t have anything specific in mind, so when I found Memory Care I was a little hesitant since I have never worked in this environment before, but I thought I’d give it a try. It has been the best choice I could’ve made. I go there twice a week for 3 hours each time, and it is such a rewarding and valuable experience. I read to the seniors, I craft with them, go for walks, play games, bake, or just listen to their stories. I am happy and thankful that I can help make the days more fun for them and have a positive influence on their lives. From volunteering I’ve learned that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and try something you’d never thought you’d do to learn more about yourself, and it is great to make a positive impact on the community you live in.


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Fernanda Soares Cardoso

Back home I always liked to volunteer. I feel like donating your time and sharing your skills for a cause is a way to help those who do not have as much as others. Also it is very satisfying and enriching. After almost one year living at the same place, I was feeling like I was at home and felt the urge to help my community again, so on December 6th, 2018, I started volunteering at the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

The LIPC is an organization that works for Long Island’s sustainable development and social, racial and economic justice, acting on climate and energy, worker-owned business, education and fair elections and corruption. As a volunteer I have been doing digital marketing jobs for their social media and working on projects related to climate and energy, getting and analyzing data and information to further actions.

I have a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science in my home country, so it has been very interesting and educational to see some of the topics I have learned at school adjusted and applied to American reality, as well as learning things I have never heard or thought about. It has been a mutual exchange of experiences and knowledge for both sides. I really appreciate how open they are to new ideas and discussions.

I have been learning a lot about United States environmental legislation (mostly New York’s) and efforts that people and organizations take to create and/or change them. I also have been learning about networking, divulgation, communication, marketing, research and strategy. I feel like this whole experience has been both professionally and personally enriching.

My most memorable moment was on the NGO’s Christmas celebration. It was an informal event made for all the employees and volunteers get to know each other and bring us closer together. I met a lot of new people, felt really motived to keep doing my work, and we also had discussions about what we would do during the upcoming year, about the NGO business and our personal lives. It was a really nice night.

The work I do at LIPC is mostly related to climate change, so here is a picture of me wearing a shirt from New York Renews, a statewide coalition that LIPC and 140+ other organizations are part of.


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Jessica Niese

My name is Jessica Niese. I'm nineteen years old and an Aupair in Rhode Island since late August.

This year my little host child, Annie, started Kindergarten, so it was really exciting for everyone. In addition, that would mean that I will have a lot of free time during her school day. That's when I started to think of volunteer work. I knew that Annie's class, with 19 children, was really big, so my host family and I figured out if I could help her teacher in Kindergarten in Little Compton, RI.

The teacher, Ms. Vareika, and of course Annie were really excited for my first day. So was I. Since then I started helping at Annie's class two or three times week and whenever they need my help for any trips. I usually work from 8:20am to 11:30am in the classroom.

I love my work there! It feels really good to do something that helps other people, and of course it's so sweet to see the happy faces of all the children. I usually get morning hugs from the kids or I can take some drawn pictures they made home. They give me so much positivity back. By now, I also know their schedule, so I can help substitutes to teach all of them.

One of my favorite experiences so far was the Lion King performance from the older children at school. It was amazing to watch, but also holding hands with children who were afraid was part of that experience. As a volunteer, I am really grateful to be part of all that happens at school. Beginning with great performances like that, field trips, to see how children make progress and help them figuring out how to solve problems. And of course it feels wonderful to make Annie smile whenever I tell her I will go to school with her.


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Jessica de Almeida Serrão

Moving to a new country and living with a family with a different culture is not easy. Everything is unusual, even the way you say “hi.” I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, in October 2017. What I quickly learned once I arrived is that a lot of people were moving here too. I began attending Seacoast Church soon after moving in with my host family, but the feeling of being part of the community was still missing for me. So in February 2018 I started a Small Group for young adults within the church. I created a place to welcome new people who had just moved here and didn’t have family or friends in the area. I realized that it wasn’t just me but a lot of people who needed this community and someone to talk to. We’ve been meeting once a week since February 2018 and have grown from 3 members to 12.

As I continued to attend Seacoast, I met a team that had begun to translate weekend services into Spanish and Portuguese. Soon after, I also met a few Brazilian families that were going to church even when they didn’t understand English very well. In an effort to serve a very real need, I promptly joined the translation team and started translating the Sunday service to Portuguese. The newly formed team also needed someone to coordinate the translators and create training to make sure every volunteer was on the same page, so I volunteered. By early 2019 we were translating Sunday services in four different languages: Spanish, Portuguese, French and Mandarin. I’m responsible for recruiting and training new people for the team. By doing this, I get to live out a passion: uniting languages and cultures in the local community. Seacoast Church has embraced the mission of our team and has given us resources to build the program. I’ve loved learning more about other countries and how American culture not just sees the international community but also appreciates us.

Research shows that there is a large percentage of Latin Americans living in Charleston, particularly from Brazil. Since my first day in this city, I have felt so welcome. And that has inspired me to make sure others feel the same. With this in mind, I started 2019 with a dream: to unite cultures. The goal was to help families that don’t speak English very well feel welcome at Seacoast and in the Charleston community, and at the same time expose the local community to the warm, friendly culture of Brazil. To accomplish this, our team decided to host an event called Avivah – Uniting Cultures, the first bilingual service at Seacoast. With the help of two other leaders, I planned the logistics, marketing, and programming for the service that happened on April 12, 2019. In addition, I recruited and coordinated 75 volunteers for the event, and we celebrated a successful evening with more than 400 attendees who experienced a cultural worship night in both Portuguese and English.


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Cinthia Rosa Borges Souza Leao

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

Anna Lena Thoms

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

Daniela Nagamatsu Dias

Au pair from Brazil living with a family in Washington.

Luisa Munoz Ramirez

Au pair from Colombia living with a family in Illinois.


Cinthia Rosa Borges Souza Leao

When I decided to become an Au Pair in America, my principal goals were to experience the exchange of culture between my host family and the local people, improve my English skills, learn new things and get to know new places. Now that I have been an au pair for six months, I can see that my exchange program has been more rich than I ever thought it would be. The new experiences that I've been living and the complexities of emotions that I've been feeling along my way are making me evolve as a person and have a better vision of my life.

Since I started my journey, I went to all the cluster meetings, and I am very happy with the Au Pair in America agency and with Kandance and Jennifer, our amazing LCC’s who are organizing the best meetings. We went to the Houston Marathon as volunteers in January 2019. It was super exciting to be a volunteer in the Marathon because we were able to organize an inspiring cultural event, feel the good energy of the runners and have fun at the same time. I also was a volunteer at the Festival of Lights in Houston on 04/20/2019, where I could encourage the participants to have fun at the games area until the lighting up of the balloons at night.

Of all my activities in my au pair adventure so far, my favorite is being the vice president of the Global Friendship Club at the Lone Star College Cy-Fair. Joining the group was definitely one of my best decisions. I am taking the Language Skills Workshop with a focus in films at Lone Star College, and my teacher, the founder of the GFC, saw my big interest in cultural exchange and invited me be the Vice President of her club. As a voluntary cultural work group, our goal is to allow students currently taking English classes at the college to participate in activities that provide meetings with people from all over the world, to make friends, share experiences and improve their English. We provide monthly meetings to have fun and learn about cultural themes such as Valentine’s Day, International Woman’s Day and Earth Day.

My most memorable moment was in April 2019, when I voluntarily presented a Global Awareness project about Brazil at my host kid's school. To present my PowerPoint project about Brazilian cities, food, music, and animals, I brought to the students brigadeiro, a very famous Brazilian dessert, a flag from Brazil, a carnival Mask and a plush macaw.

In conclusion, volunteering is important to me because I can help my community by interacting with people from different countries, classes and backgrounds who share common interests, giving me a sense of accomplishment and the courage to explore the world. I’ve learn about American life and culture from volunteering, and that volunteerism is an essential American value.


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Anna lena Thoms

Hi, I’m Anna!

I’ve been an Au Pair in the United States since July 2018, and since September I’ve been volunteering in the RECcenter in McLean. And it’s sooo much fun! I love it and I can recommend doing it to others.

Right now there are about 9 au pair volunteers in the RECcenter from different countries who volunteer there twice a week for two hours. We’re helping keeping the fitness center hygienic, nice and clean. In addition to that, we help with paperwork and rewriting the RECcenter initials on their pool equipment. It’s always great when people come to you and say how much they appreciate your work. Also, we’re responsible for getting the coins out of the lockers every week and decorate the center for seasonal events so that there’s a nice atmosphere and people like to go there. It should be a second home for everybody!

For Christmas we chose to also decorate a tree which is normally not decorated, but we thought it would look great so we were allowed to do it and even give the tree a name...it’s Albert! Shawna, our coordinator, said that she will keep up that tradition from now on.

From this volunteering experience I’ve learned a lot, especially how friendly and open-minded Americans are. They just love to chat with you a bit about what you’re doing at the RECcenter or how your au pair experience is. Small talk is not big in my home country, Germany, but I really enjoy it here. Once, a friend and I chatted with a man who was talking about how much he loves Germany. He often visits a small town, I guess it’s more a village, and in the end we found out that he was talking about the hometown of my friend. That was so crazy and it showed us how small and connected the world is.

Volunteering is just a great thing! You feel so much better when you know that you can do something positive. With so little effort, you can influence so many people’s day and make it better.

In the beginning of April there was the national volunteer appreciation week, and Shawna came up with so many ideas how to show that in the RECcenter. Of course we helped her realizing her ideas. The theme was ‘Taste the feeling of making a difference,’ which I think is great because it inspires also other people to volunteer and make something positive in the world! I think that week was the most special event to me because a lot of people randomly came up to us and just thanked for our work and effort we render. That shows me that I’m definitely doing the right thing to use my free time wisely and encouraging our community.


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Daniela Nagamatsu Dias

I am a volunteer at ELLA (the English Language Learners Alliance), which is a non-profit organization here in Washington state. The mission is to connect non-native speakers with opportunities for improving their English skills and their knowledge of American culture through educational, cultural, social and community events.

My experience at ELLA was a reciprocal help, a give-and-receive relationship in which I was able to help, improve my skills and also become more involved with the community. I came from Brazil, a multicultural country, and when I first heard about this volunteering possibility, I didn't think twice—that was what I wanted to do.

My most memorable moment was when I brought a friend (my host kid's grandmother, who is from India) to the group to help her speak English more comfortably. I also made friends that I really care about.

Volunteering in the conversation group gave me the chance to learn more about American culture (habits, food recipes, festive events, state laws, etc.) and, since there are people who came from many different places, I've been learning the differences between the US and their hometowns.

It is really important to me to be a volunteer at ELLA because I have the opportunity to help the community— when it comes to speaking English or practicing a new language, most of the times fear and shyness comes around and people start to avoid situations or giving up on their goals. If I can be the change for any person, I will. Especially when there is a whole world out there just waiting for us to enjoy.


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Luisa Munoz Ramirez

Hello! I am from Colombia and I am living in Chicago, Illinois.

I am taking care of the five cutest kids that I ever see counting my cute little baby who has special needs. My biggest passion is helping people, which is why I chose this family since I saw there were five kids… I am Christian and I go to church every Sunday to help, and now every Tuesday too. I like to help everywhere. Most of the time I am in the welcome team because I think that giving a smile to someone who maybe isn't havinga good week makes the difference. Also, I am in the prayer team, and leading teenagers is amazing for me because I think the youth are the future and that is why they need God in their life.

I have been helping in My Starving Children every year with my host kids, and it is awesome too because they are learning that helping others is important. I am a volunteer at the hospital; for me it is a pleasure to be part of those difference makers, helping and not expecting anything back.

Also I have the opportunity to learn more about American culture and see how beautiful people are and how they make you feel at home. I believe that what I feel when I am helping or serving doesn't have a price. It is the most beautiful feeling, and I am so blessed to have that opportunity every day anyplace where I go.


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Lara Schaper

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

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


Lara Schaper

My name is Lara. I am 20 years old and from Germany. I came to the US in July 2017 and extended with the same host family for another full year.

In October 2018, I started volunteering for the Atlanta Humane Society. There I volunteer to help find cats and dogs a forever home. The Atlanta Humane Society is a nonprofit organization founded in 1873, and is widely recognized as a pet adoption center, vet center and educational program provider. One of the things I love most about this shelter is that it is a no-kill shelter, which means that every cat and dog gets a furever home.

About two to three days a week I volunteer at the cat adoptions, where I not only talk to new people to help them find their perfect match, I also meet new volunteers. Volunteering helps me open up to new people, talking to everybody and making sure that they get the help they need. I have made two friends already who volunteer for way longer than I have. In 2018, they went to Germany and were absolutely kind to bring back some goods that they knew I missed here in the US. Besides my au pair friends, it is truly a blessing to have found friends that I can visit (that live in the US) once I go back to Germany.

I love being an au pair, but the change of scenery, taking care of animals and not children for once, really helped me since I have a cat at home which I miss dearly. I extended for another year with the same host family, and since we only have one dog and my host mom is allergic to cats, I really enjoy going to the Atlanta Humane Society.

Apart from helping people find a cat that will be with them, I also get to cuddle with cats, play with them, organize things or just try to get the shy cats to open up more, so they get adopted.

I am not looking forward to leaving the US to go home in July because that means that I have to say goodbye to all the volunteers and cats that I have grown to love. They will always have a special place in my heart. The volunteering experience has taught me how much I love to spend time with cats, about American culture and different perspectives on life.

On the other hand I am taking this experience as an opportunity. When I go back to Germany, I will try to find something similar to the Atlanta Humane Society. Volunteering has opened up my eyes, and I will for sure volunteer more in the future.


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Luisa Munoz Ramirez

Hello! I am from Colombia and I am living in Chicago, Illinois.

I am taking care of the five cutest kids that I ever see counting my cute little baby who has special needs. My biggest passion is helping people, which is why I chose this family since I saw there were five kids… I am Christian and I go to church every Sunday to help, and now every Tuesday too. I like to help everywhere. Most of the time I am in the welcome team because I think that giving a smile to someone who maybe isn't havinga good week makes the difference. Also, I am in the prayer team, and leading teenagers is amazing for me because I think the youth are the future and that is why they need God in their life.

I have been helping in My Starving Children every year with my host kids, and it is awesome too because they are learning that helping others is important. I am a volunteer at the hospital; for me it is a pleasure to be part of those difference makers, helping and not expecting anything back.

Also I have the opportunity to learn more about American culture and see how beautiful people are and how they make you feel at home. I believe that what I feel when I am helping or serving doesn’t have a price. It is the most beautiful feeling, and I am so blessed to have that opportunity every day anyplace where I go.


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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 Tuesday, May 1st, 2019, 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

Au Pair in America, 1 High Ridge Park,
Stamford, CT 06905

Phone: toll free

(800) 928-7247 direct - (203) 399-5000

E-mail

aupair.info@aifs.com

London Office for Au Pairs

Au Pair in America, 37 Queen's Gate,
London SW7 5HR

Phone:

+44 (0) 20 7581 7322

E-mail

info@aupairamerica.co.uk

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