Vail Daily column: Local student complements schoolwork with service
May 4, 2014
High school students have a lot on their plate as they keep track of their studies, sports, clubs, volunteering and family obligations. It’s always impressive to see young people be able to manage these busy schedules and stay committed to their responsibilities and goals.
Throughout high school, students’ interests keep pushing them in different directions, academic rigor becomes more intensive and students do more with very little time. Service and volunteerism help students stay committed to the community and maintain strong morals and altruistic behaviors. Service learning can also help students connect to other communities locally, nationally and globally as they learn of different challenges that all communities face. Through this process, they maintain high standards for themselves, stay more engaged in schoolwork and understand the positive role and impact they can make.
Abigail Varela, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, chooses to be one of these committed and active students. She dedicates her time to a rigorous academic schedule, varsity basketball and volunteering at the Gypsum Recreation Center.
Varela also keeps herself busy with camping, reading and art, including photography and drawing. If she could spend her time doing anything, then it would be playing basketball. She has been a positive leader for her basketball team, attended additional practice opportunities and supports her team on and off the court.
Additionally, Varela has been a part of the SOS programs since third grade. Her role in SOS is much bigger now that she is a peer mentor to other high school students, supporting their progression in outdoor adventure sports as well as their service learning projects in the community. In SOS, she is also a part of a leadership development program that has introduced her to international advocacy. One of her current and favorite service projects with a group of SOS students is to raise money for Syrian refugees in order to purchase a shelter box for a family. Inside this box is an emergency supply bundle for displaced families, complete with a shelter, food and water.
Serving others is important to Varela, whether it’s helping a student connect their “s” turns on the mountain, making it to the top of the climbing wall, perfecting their shot or sending aid supplies. She recognizes that service is about knowing that despite everything that’s going on in your life, there are people who have a far more difficult life than you, and you have the resources to help them. She believes service is important to stay involved in the community, have a sense of belonging and provide for others when they need help. Varela believes others should participate in service in order for them to gain an understanding of the people they are serving and the changes they’re making in their community, and also have the opportunity to be humble and compassionate.
Through her involvement with different organizations and nonprofits, Varela has learned how to identify issues, create a project around those issues and determine what resources are available to overcome those issues.
Finding Good in Others
Varela’s proudest moment came this past fall when she was honored at the Governor’s Mansion for her excellence in the Governor’s Summer Job Hunt program. She interned almost 300 hours at SOS this past summer through the Youth Workforce Program, supporting the office and programs. This was a proud moment for her because she stuck with something she knew was good for her, which ultimately challenged her and made her a better person. Varela has learned that to become a better person she needs to focus on the good in others and helping them when they need help.
Varela says that anyone can say they want to make change, but to do it, you’ve really got to do it; making a difference is easy — the hard part is finding the motivation to follow through. She is one of those busy high school students that is making a difference both locally and globally; she has vision and a drive; she can articulate her thoughts and goals; and she stands out as a leader among her peers. Varela also understands the reciprocal nature of service and would like to thank everyone in the community.
“Although I’ve worked hard to serve in the community and make a difference, somehow it’s always the community helping me,” she said. “The service work is making me a better person.”
Eagle River Youth Coalition recently administered the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey to over 2,600 local young people and concluded that 71 percent of high school students participate in extracurricular activities at school such as sports, band, drama, clubs or student government. Additionally, among high school students, 96 percent feel it is important to finish high school and 93 percent feel it is important to go to college. Through all the academic and extracurricular opportunities in high school, students are learning the skills that will help them become successful and professional adults.
Mikayla Curtis is the resource development coordinator at the Eagle River Youth Coalition. The Youth Leaders Council is a program of the Eagle River Youth Coalition. In addition to the Youth Leaders Council, the Eagle River Youth Coalition offers parenting education and trainings for community members. For more information, call 970-949-9250 or visit http://www.eagleyouth.org.