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After a long but fulfilling day of traveling with participants to their communities on Friday, my fellow project supervisors and I returned to staff house that afternoon filled with pride and excitement.

It’s an indescribable feeling leaving participants in the arms of their host families for the first time—you’re excited to see what they will accomplish in the few days before your first route visit, hopeful that the work you put in before their arrival will pay off, all while feeling your maternal instincts kick in. However, my volunteers exceeded all expectations I had.

In each community I visited, I saw strong bonds already formed between participants and their host families or communities, blossoming in their newfound roles as leaders, and memories being made across language and cultural barriers.

I am immensely proud of all of my participants and their communities for the hard work they have done this week. They’ve worked to get their service projects off the ground—leading youth meetings, mobilizing community resources, planning activities for kids (including leading fulfilling discussions on gender equality), and overall, for showing me why I am here this summer. I believe in the power of youth to be catalysts for positive change. By putting ourselves in unfamiliar situations, I believe that we discover the best versions of ourselves. That being said, here are some highlights from my first week on route.

Noria Vieja: Jack K. and Patrick are having a great time and made so many connections with the youth in their community in just the first 72 hours. I spent the day playing dominoes, ERS, and solitaire with them and their host siblings, who enjoy playing any sort of game with them and love learning about American music and sharing some of their own favorite Dominican songs.

Barranca: Lauren and Natalie are the queens of campamentos. I have loved seeing them grow as leaders, Spanish-speakers and people these past couple of days, mainly due to their daily activities for kids, which include a morning session for younger children and an afternoon one for older youth. They both love their host families and are thriving in community.

Los Jobos: Sophia G. and Yarely are loving community and are working hard on campamentos, their service project, and immersing themselves in Dominican culture, finding success with each one. With supplies coming later this week for them to build a volleyball court, they have spent their time working with community members to iron out the logistics. Not to mention in their free time they’ve gone on some beautiful hikes with their host siblings and learned to make chin chin, a traditional Dominican dish.

Guayabo: Sofia L. and Kayla are doing great in community and have had an adventurous couple of days exploring the community and the nearby town of Elias Piña. Their biggest accomplishments this week were finding a coach for the volleyball team they are working to form and getting to know all the active youth in the community. Their enthusiasm and positivity is contagious, both with me and the community.