By: Aidan Ryan

Nine-year-old me was super excited about visiting Costa Rica. I was taking the trip as part of a project organized by Courts for Kids, an organization that provides sports courts for impoverished communities. I knew that our mission was to give the village a safe place for their kids to play, but I wasn’t aware of what the experience would give to me.

After spending a week immersed in their village, I realized that the children had very few toys or possessions. Nonetheless, they were happy and content. They had little to give, but were always looking to feed and take care of me. To this day it serves as a reminder that we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.

It was such a moving experience that I signed up again to visit Uganda and again to go to Indonesia. Each trip taught me more about humility and selflessness, and expanded my perspective on social inequality. I learned that compassion is more than just serving those in need; it is putting myself in another’s shoes and being part of their community. Taking the time to share a meal, getting to know people by name, and learning other’s stories helped me build strong relationships.

These trips gave me the realization that poverty can take root anywhere, even in my hometown. This idea became most real to me when I had a firsthand experience seeing a classmate living in a homeless shelter. I had no idea about their living situation and this made me start to question about my other friends. The truth is we have no idea what is actually going on in other people’s lives. After meeting with the Clark County Food Bank and talking to them about the people who they serve, I was amazed at how much poverty exists in our community.

After realizing that kids here at home are struggling with things that I take for granted every day, I felt called to advocate for local infants and children. Part of my effort has been to motivate my peers to serve as well, and last year I coordinated a multi school effort to help alleviate child hunger. Over the course of a year, we raised more than $110,000 and provided 270,000 meals to the hungry.

My passion for serving others is part of me, but leading others to take action has provided me the greatest personal growth. I think this connects back to my international trips and the lesson I learned about everyone being able to help someone. By working to educate and involve others, I’m able to show more people how they can help in their own way. And the project has been humbling in its own right.

I’ve learned how much more I could accomplish by relying on the help of others. I watched everyone involved grow and learn new skills. It showed me how serving can benefit others, but also help develop our own character and community.

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