An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Olivia S. '20

When I stumbled across the opportunity to join the Seattle Aquarium as a Youth Ocean Advocate, I dove in. The Youth Ocean Advocate program aims to bring teens into the education and advocacy work of the aquarium. The mission of the Seattle Aquarium is to inspire conservation of our marine environment. I’ve always loved the ocean and marine life, so spending five hours a day learning about fish and marine mammals sounded too good to be true. When I was accepted into the program, I was ecstatic. I felt that it was the perfect way for me to give back by educating others on a topic I am passionate about.

My other volunteer experience is at Water1st International (Can you see a theme?). I’m a member of the youth board which aims to educate others about the world water crisis. I’ve spent time this year learning about water crises and taking action by fundraising for the water project in La Virtud, Honduras. Water1st funds and builds water projects in countries around the world including India, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Honduras, and Ethiopia. Each water project installs toilets, showers, and faucets in every home of the communities assisted. These installations have the potential to transform the lives of the people who receive them. For example, Water1st hopes that instead of walking for hours on end to carry water, women and girls are able to attend school and receive educations. To avoid many people waiting in a long line to use a communal water pump, water is piped directly to every house in the village. Water1st tackles the water crisis directly at the root problem and creates lasting solutions that help and empower the members of their assisted communities.

I think that service is about connection to the issue that you’re trying to fix or to the people that you’re trying to help. Through both the organizations I volunteer with, I’ve been able to watch these connections develop. Through Water1st I’ve been able to see people receiving water with videos of water inauguration ceremonies. These connections, while not as large scale, are also evident at the aquarium. My favorite part about spending time at the aquarium is watching a connection develop between a visitor and a creature. Watching a little kid stand by the starfish tank for twenty minutes or an adult admire the oystercatcher shows the importance of fostering connections between people and animals we care about. Creating those connections is how the aquarium gets people excited about marine animals and introduces them to conservation.

As of now, the most meaningful experience of my service was the Water1st Carry5 Walk for Water. The Carry5 is Water1st’s biggest fundraiser and the culminating event for all the fundraising and work done throughout the year. I was impressed by the influence the organization has on the Seattle community, as over 700 people arrived at Seattle Center to walk. This year, Water1st raised over $290,000 for water projects in the five target countries. At Carry5, watching people carry jerrycans and reading the posters about our water projects, I felt proud to be a member of a community that worked towards helping others. When I received the email with our total fundraising amounts, I’d never felt prouder to be a part of something, and I believe that kind of happiness can only come from giving back.

I have also learned a lot the extent to which youth can be a catalyst for change. One example that comes to mind is the Water1st youth boards. This year, the youth boards raised a record $170,000 to fund the La Virtud project in Honduras. This money will be used to bring water to the La Virtud community this year, along with other communities in Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh.

Although I’m only a sophomore and don’t yet have tons of service experience, I have learned a lot from the time I’ve spent with these organizations. Logging thirteen hours at the aquarium in one weekend is something that brings me lots of joy. Service is what you do to give back to your community, but you should also receive. My advice (the part you’ve all been waiting for, I know) is to find opportunities with organizations you are interested in. I’ll be spending ten hours almost every weekend at the aquarium this summer, and I can’t wait. Being involved in issues that are very important to you will make you want to spend more time volunteering.

Beyond college applications and essay prompts, service is extremely beneficial. Volunteering can open doors in terms of work and experience, can be a way to try out a field you may be interested in, and allows you to commit to causes you care about. As a volunteer, I’ve developed relationships with others who want to learn for five hours straight about marine mammals. Beyond a requirement, service is an opportunity for personal exploration with tangible impacts. Service fosters connections, brings together groups of people, and creates positive change.