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Volunteer vacation creates fresh perspective, new career aspirations

A volunteer vacation can be a life-changing experience. Just ask Tacy Lambiase.  This  University of Maryland student’s recent trip with Globe Aware has forced her to shift here priorities and career path. Her story was related on the Drive the District website and blog. Enjoy:

Volunteer Vacations Break New Ground

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Tacy Lambiase at the CBF Oyster Restoration Center (Photo courtesy Meenu Singh)

Lounging on a beach or skiing snowy slopes is no longer a typical vacation. Volunteering is an increasingly appealing way to spend time off, whether it’s close to home or in an exotic locale.

A leader in this emerging “voluntourism” movement is Globe Aware, a Dallas-based nonprofit that sends volunteers to more than a dozen locations around the globe for weeklong vacations. Volunteers spend around 35 hours assisting with projects like building wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia, constructing schools in Ghana or assembling adobe stoves in Peru.

The goal, said Globe Aware founder Kimberly Haley-Coleman, is to foster sustainability and build relationships between cultures. Spending a week side by side with people of a foreign culture creates a connection that tourist vacations don’t.

“Our volunteers are coming away really understanding the challenges of that culture,” Haley-Coleman said. “I would argue that’s more important than the physical projects that we’re working on – being able to make that human connection and understand each other’s view of the world.”

Haley-Coleman created Globe Aware when she couldn’t find an organization sympathetic to the packed schedules of professionals – like her – who couldn’t spend months at a time volunteering. Individuals, families and groups of all ages are welcome to volunteer with Globe Aware. Trips start in the $1,100 range (plus airfare), and are tax-deductible.

The benefits of volunteering, enthusiasts say, go beyond the tax break. Fostering good in the world refreshes a weary spirit, and cultural immersion breeds introspection. Haley-Coleman has seen relationships – even marriages – blossom following trips.

A service trip during spring vacation encouraged 22-year-old Tacy Lambiase, from Arlington, to consider a different career path.

Lambiase, a University of Maryland senior, spent two spring breaks volunteering for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland. She camped on the beach near the foundation’s headquarters, learning about environmental sustainability. “It really was a life-changing experience for me, as cliché as that sounds,” she said.

A week of cleaning oysters, monitoring water quality, canoeing and visiting the legislature inspired Lambiase to add sustainability studies as a minor. Come graduation in December, she’s considering seeking employment with an environmental nonprofit or finding a job in corporate sustainability.

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Lambiase’s group camped on the beach (Photo courtesy Javier Vandeyar)

Lambiase’s group camped on the beach. Photo courtesy Javier Vandeyar.

Lambiase confesses she wasn’t the “outdoorsy type,” but venturing outside her comfort zone – living on the beach and engaging in physical work like planting trees – was an overwhelmingly positive experience. “Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before,” she said.

She also suggests finding a project connected a social issue that holds personal meaning. “You’ll be able to benefit and find meaning in the work that you’re doing,” she said.

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