By Endrina Fernandez
At the beginning of my senior year at UF, my friend and I came across Children Beyond Our Borders at Plaza of the Americas (back in 2014). We were both excited to apply and venture to a new country, a new city, a new everything. Shortly after my application I received an email for an interview at Library West; this adventure was becoming more real to me. Later on, I got my acceptance letter and dates for our training. Nothing felt real until I stepped out of the airplane and saw Yosimar holding a "Welcome CBOB Family" banner.
The apartment was luxurious, the pool looked amazing, my group of volunteers was hilarious. I could not complain; I was in paradise. Then we had our first day at the foundation at Granitos de Paz. Holy Crap! Who knew you could fall in love with so many kids in a split second! They see you and their eyes light up, they rush to hug you, and it just feels like unconditional love. Monday through Friday, as a group, we would present our workshops and bond with the kids. Some kids would pull me aside to tell me secrets, some called me "mom", and others just wanted to hug me or be by my side all day. It could get a bit exhausting because kids do have tons of energy, but it was worth it. We became this huge family in less than two weeks.
Our last day consisted of a war, a water balloon war. We split into teams and rushed to fill up as many balloons as we could. Everyone could not stop laughing. This fulfilling experience that made our goodbyes with torn tears and long hugs. Nobody wanted to leave.
As you see, a Bound for Peace Trip becomes more than just a trip, it's a life-changing experience. You learn to appreciate your life a bit more. You learn to smile more. It's a feeling hard to explain but you feel like you made a change in someone's world. I have not met someone who did not enjoy their trip. Now I became the Director of Service Trips, because I may not have the eligibility to attend each trip, but I can assure the traditions continue on with every generation. I can make sure kids know I am there in spirit by face-timing a volunteer and chatting with the kids. I miss them all. And that was just a brief summary of my first Bound for Peace Trip to Cartagena in 2015.
Endrina Fernandez is the Director of the Service Trip Program for CBOB. She received a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology from the University of Florida.
By Daniel Alvarez
“You have to go. It will change your life.” These are the words that were spoken to me by a fellow classmate a few weeks before I applied to volunteer on my first service trip with CBOB in 2011. My classmate, Andrea Ortega (who would eventually become Executive Director of CBOB years later), had just finished telling me how her life was impacted by her first trip with CBOB the previous summer. I was unaware at the time that the service trip that I was going to embark on would actually change my worldview, help me find my passion, and shape the course of my life.
As a student entering my junior year at UF, I had already changed my major once and I was constantly questioning what career path was the right one for me. I knew I wanted to help people in need, but I was not completely sure what was the best path for me to do this. My parents, Colombian immigrants who came to the U.S. in search of a better life, endured many challenges and worked tirelessly to give my two older brothers and I a life of opportunity and the privilege to dream. Thanks to their sacrifices, I had the option of questioning my career choice halfway through college and of exploring what it was I truly wanted to do. I am grateful that when I came to my parents with the idea that I wanted to travel to Colombia with a group of volunteers for two weeks, they supported me and opened the door for me.
I arrived in Cartagena in the summer of 2011 excited for the unknown and with enthusiasm to serve the kids in the community. I felt ready to deliver on the goal of empowering the children to make positive life choices and to inspire them to pursue their dreams. However, I was unaware of the transformative impact that the youth would have on me.
I vividly remember arriving for the first time at Fundacion Granitos de Paz, the nonprofit organization located at the center of Rafael Nuñez, one of Cartagena’s most marginalized neighborhoods where we would be working with the youth. A social worker from the Fundacion provided the group of volunteers with an overview of the multitude of programs and services the organization provides to the children and families of Rafael Nuñez to help them overcome the challenges they face daily. The social worker then led us on a tour of the neighborhood, where my eyes were opened to the immense needs of the community. It did not take long to see the variety of challenges faced by the people of Rafael Nuñez as a result of poverty. There I was with 20+ college students from the United States, hopeful that we could make some sort of lasting impact on the lives of the children of this community over the next two weeks. However, I was realizing quickly that the challenges these children faced were so much larger than what we could realistically help them with. Whereas my thoughts when I landed in Cartagena consisted of “I can’t wait to make a difference in the lives of these kids,” they quickly shifted to “What are the chances that our time here can actually make a difference?” Needless to say, I began the trip with conflicted feelings about the long-term impact we could actually make during our time in Cartagena.
Then I met the kids. The joy in their faces greeting returning volunteers and meeting new ones for the first time was enough to show me that CBOB played a vital role in the lives of these children. Throughout the span of the two weeks that followed, I found out how CBOB has left its mark on the lives of so many kids in the community of Rafael Nuñez for years. Some children shared that they actively reminded themselves to avoid negative influences such as drugs and gangs because of what CBOB volunteers had taught them about these dangerous paths. Others shared how they came to have hope for a future in which they can pursue their goals for a better life through their education. Others even shared that they were determined to learn to speak English for the simple fact that they wanted to be able to communicate with the CBOB volunteers who came to visit them and could not speak Spanish. The most moving part of all was when I heard the general consensus about what this time of the year meant for the children: They had been looking forward to these two weeks with CBOB’s volunteers for the entire year. Despite the relatively short amount of time that the volunteers spend with the children of Rafael Nuñez each year, it was clear that CBOB’s impact lasted well beyond the two-week-long service trips.
During my time on that first service trip with CBOB, I realized that our purpose there was a more profound one than what I could have ever initially known. I came to see that a group of volunteers cannot possibly change the current situation the children lived in. However, each group of volunteers, year after year, had a role in empowering the children to make vital decisions that could change their futures. Perhaps most importantly, by the end of the trip I understood that the bonds that were created with the children of Rafael Nuñez were bonds that forged goals and hope for a better future.
I ended up returning as trip leader on the service trip to Cartagena the following year. I also joined the executive board of CBOB’s UF chapter with the hope of spreading awareness about the service trips to more students, citing to them the same words Andrea had told me a couple years prior. I even returned as a volunteer for a third time a year after graduating from college. It became very clear to me by this point that empowering youth was not just something I wanted to do as an extracurricular activity; it was what I wanted to do with my life.
While I was unsure of what path I wanted to take before I volunteered on my first trip with CBOB, I am grateful that the journey to my calling began with that experience. I graduated with my Masters in Social Work in 2017 and am pursuing licensure in Clinical Social Work. I am currently working for a behavioral health agency in Miami, where I provide therapeutic services to children and families facing a variety of life challenges. I attribute my experiences with CBOB as what mainly influenced me to pursue a career path in which offering hope and empowerment to people in need is one of the primary goals.
Approximately seven years after my first service trip with CBOB, I am honored to serve as a member of the organization’s Board of Directors. My experiences as a volunteer with CBOB shaped the course of my life, and I hope to help the organization continue to impact the lives of the children we serve, while hopefully helping others find their calling through CBOB, too.
Daniel Alvarez is a Behavioral Health Practitioner at Banyan Health Systems in Miami, FL.
By Valentina Betancur
In my personal opinion and from my own individual experience, education has the amazing quality of enlightening those who take it on. It has been a beautiful experience to have learned the things that I have learned in the classroom during my time in college thus far. Yet, one of the most difficult experiences during these past three years was to begin to make the connections between what I learned in the classroom to the harsh reality of what happens back home. I was born in Medellin, Colombia but I was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. The poverty rate there is almost 15%, and yet, when you drive through many of its streets it seems exponentially higher. The city has a pretty stark divide in terms of race and class where Blacks and Hispanics are often the most impoverished throughout the city. The legacies that I would study in class, I would see for myself when I would go back home and visit my friends. I would drive through the city and see for myself the opportunities—or lack thereof—that there are for certain communities. Children being packed into extremely low quality schools because of the neighborhoods that they were born in. This lack of educational opportunity coupled with the onslaught of other problems that the poor often face becomes an obstacle that is too difficult for many to overcome. I have seen the outcome of this combination with two of my closest friends as well as throughout the people of my city and now I understand the institutional problems that reside behind it.
Like I said before, I see education as an opportunity for enlightenment, but I think that it also gives a person power to act on that knowledge. I hope every day that I can continue on to be an advocate for the disenfranchised and their experiences and to use the information that I have learned to help break down some of the barriers that have been put in front of them.
Even though I am the Development Director for CBOB and therefore do not interact with the children that we serve face-to-face as much as other managers, I still feel that it is an opportunity to start breaking down some barriers. After going back to my city several times and understanding the role that education plays in changing lives, it makes me incredibly proud of the work that we do as an organization. The children that we help (both locally and abroad) could easily be one of my friends from back home or one of the people that I drive by on the streets of Jacksonville. Every effort that we make on a daily basis contributes to enhancing the quality of life of another person, until little by little we make real change.
Valentina Betancur is the Development Director for Children Beyond Our Borders. She is entering her fourth year at the University of Florida as a double major in Economics and International Studies with a minor in International Development, and she has been with CBOB for a little over a year, beginning last summer as a fundraising intern.
Choosing a graduate career can be extremely difficult. You’ve survived four years of taking a bunch of classes that didn’t have to do with what you studied. Just when when you finally got to the classes of your interest, you either realize you love it or think “what have I gotten myself into?” I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Packaging Engineering from the University of Florida, today, I am in the PhD program at the University of Central Florida in Public Administration. How did that happen? For one, I worked as a Structural Designer straight out of college for a packaging company and although designing was fun, I hated and dreaded going to work. I loved the nonprofit I volunteered at and I was pretty freaking good at it. I took a leap of faith and applied to the Masters in Nonprofit management at the University of Central Florida. The reason I share some of my background is for you to understand there are plenty of people who are now studying something totally different, my husband got his Masters in Logistics Management and his Bachelors in Criminal Justice. Life is not decided right after college, so much goes into what will be your forever career and although, I might not be in what I thought I would be, I somehow ended where I should be.
A couple of tips on choosing a graduate career:
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. If you are thinking of applying to UCF. I’d love to answer any of your questions. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Madelyn Brenner
At first, the thought of a virtual internship might be confusing or overwhelming--Will I have enough time? Will I understand the full extent of my position?---the questions are seemingly endless. But with a little research, you may realize that a virtual internship is the perfect way to balance other commitments while also gaining valuable experience for your future career goals.
Children Beyond our Borders offers what's called the Virtual Internship Program, more commonly known as VIP (because our interns are VIPs, of course). This program is "a selective program that allows individuals to get involved in an international non-profit organization" (CBOB VIP). By treating our interns as employees, they get a real-life feel for what a position in their respective field might be like, and they are able to learn valuable skills and receive advice and guidance from others further along the same path.
Virtual internships are also much more likely to fit your schedule, allowing you to complete your assigned tasks on your own time. You're also much more likely to have flexibility in deadlines, especially when a company knows you are a determined college student, balancing many tasks at once---a very impressive feat. It can also help you better hone your phone, email, and webchat etiquette to be better prepared to communicate on various formats with future coworkers, bosses, and more (Intern Queen). These internships can also prepare you for the possibility of telecommuting in the future (Internships). Virtual internships are an awesome option if you can't make a full-time commitment, but you are looking to gain experience in your field. Employees and employers alike can benefit from this mutual exchange of willingness to learn and experience to gain.
Children Beyond our Borders' Virtual Internship Program is special because it does provide remote access to our company, but it also has local events throughout each semester that can allow an intern at any Florida university with an official CBOB chapter--FSU, UCF, and UF--to participate in health fairs, workshops, tabling events and more. This interaction is a great way to see the impact each action you take has on the community around you. Even further, our interns are also eligible, as is anyone, to participate in our Bound for Peace service trips and see what our work is doing in South America as well.
Sound interesting? Consider applying to join our team! We're especially looking for those interested in Outreach, Public Relations, or recruiting for our Bound for Peace trips. Visit chbob.org/apply to send in your application today!
By Natalia Torres
Born and raised in Cali, Colombia, I quickly jumped at the chance to join Children Beyond Our Borders once I found out about it as a sophomore at the University of Florida. Leading up to my first service trip, I was thrilled about the opportunity to collaborate and travel with like-minded people to serve the youth in my home country. After the excitement of landing in Cartagena wore off (does it actually wear off though?) and I was a few hours into our first day at Granitos de Paz, I was hit with how truly fortunate I was to be in that space and that it was not something to be taken for granted.
During my time at Granitos on my first trip, I was able to witness the phrase “education = empowerment” in action in the community; within the center, at every workshop with our kids, and mostly within myself. I was able to step out of the bubble of my privileged college experience, return to my roots and see first-hand that education comes in all and shapes and sizes and it has the ability to create significant change in an individual’s life. I also realized that I wanted my efforts to go beyond a two week trip.
At the time, that looked like heavy involvement with the UF Chapter of CBOB. To this day, my group of girlfriends who I reunite with at least yearly, rely on for life advice, and feel empowered by, are the women I met on these trips and during my time with the organization (hi Alli, Candice, Maria, Supriya and Taryn!) Long term, these experiences and the passion that I felt around our mission led me to education as my full time profession. After graduating from the University of Florida, I moved to Chicago to join Teach for America as a special educator, and to this day, I work at the same high school I started at, now as an Assistant Principal.
Through Children Beyond Our Borders, I was able to have life experiences that illuminated the right path for me, and also made it clear that to make the impact that I wanted to, I had to make a serious and long term commitment as an educator. This is why I pursued my masters as soon as I started Teach for America, have been at the same high school since my first day as a teacher, and returned to Children Beyond Our Borders by joining the board a few years ago. Every day I wake up ready to learn and grow as an educator, but I know that all of these experiences are most powerful when shared, so I hope that the knowledge I’ve gained over the years, inspired by the very first time I set foot in Barrio Olaya Herrera, can serve as a resource for all the children that Children Beyond Our Borders seeks to empower through education.
Reflecting on my semester as a VIP at Children Beyond Our Borders Inc.
By Madelyn Brenner
I didn't know what to expect when I applied for a position with CBOB's Volunteer Internship Program last fall. VIP is a selective program that allows individuals to get involved in an international non-profit organization. The VIP interns are treated as employees by encouraging independence, originality, and a stress-free environment. Interns are able to apply their academic skills to a hands-on experience in the non-profit field. The overall goal is to encourage and empower the interns by providing life skills that can prepare them for a successful future. From the research I had done, it seemed like a good fit with my two majors---International Studies and Spanish---and great preparation for a future career in public service. I had no idea how much experience and knowledge the organization and program would allow me to gain and how much I would grow to love the cause and mission CBOB stands for.
In addition to my daily duties as a Public Relations and Social Media Intern, which involve posting updates, contacting other organizations, creating graphics, and scheduling posts, I was also able to grow so much as a person. By participating in local events like Health Fairs, workshops, tabling, and setting up for big events like Gala, I was able to help promote and implement CBOB's mission of providing opportunities for children and youth affected by armed conflict and social injustice to find peace, prosperity and well-being through education and empowerment. I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the purpose of our organization's programs and what it accomplishes with every action that it takes. I hope to further watch this organization succeed by continuing to stay involved as an intern, and hopefully finding new ways to promote its mission, by participating in a Bound for Peace service trip in the near future.
I can't wait to see what this organization does next, and how I am able to promote its vision as an intern! I hope others reach out of their comfort zone and join the VIP program in order to help promote education and empowerment. With a variety of positions in every field, and an assortment of opportunities to get involved throughout the organization, like Bound for Peace, Tutoring, our College Prep Mentorship Program, and more, there are so many ways our VIPs are changing the world! It's amazing to see so many people from different backgrounds coming together to promote a greater good. I would never have felt such hope and inspiration if I hadn't applied for CBOB's Volunteer Internship Program.
One of our IAMCBOB scholars, Davian, graduated from university on April 27, 2018.
by Christina Mouttet
IAMCBOB provides an all-expenses-paid college education to motivated students who have a strong desire to acquire a higher level of education after graduating high school. The program empowers young leaders to be equipped for success and gives them the opportunity to have a proper college education. IAMCBOB students put forth their best effort in their school work, while also giving back to their communities by participating in civic engagement activities. IAMCBOB students act as both role models and service leaders to their communities.
Read below to find out about one of our scholars, Davian Ortiz, who graduated on April 27, 2018 with a degree in industrial design.
1. Where are you from?
I was born in San Cristobal, a corregimiento of the city of Medellin on January 1, 1994.
2. Describe your family and how you grew up.
I am a humble man from a humble family. I was born and grew up during a time of economic poverty, always wanting to rid myself of certain things that wore me down on a daily basis. I grew up with 3 siblings, 2 out of marriage and one little sister from marriage. We relied on each other in all circumstances. My mom and dad came to the city in search of opportunities for their children and always found ways for us to advance our education. They taught us values and principles to face life in many ways. I am a faithful person, a believer that everything that shapes us as a human being comes from how we were raised and customs. I feel proud of my family and of our struggle to be better every day.
3. What did you study and why?
I studied industrial design. The repair and creation of objects caught my attention since I was really young and I gravitated towards design since it gave me knowledge in that area.
4. How did you hear about CBOB and our IAMCBOB scholarship program?
I found the program one day in my school when my friend Jose Fernando Martinez came to me and asked if I wanted to join a program of higher education from abroad that would teach us a lot. It caught my attention right away and I responded yes. We started in the program called “New Horizons,” directed by Angelica Suarez Trujilo, of which I was with for about two years. Later, this same program gave me the opportunity to go to university, which has now made be a part of the IAMCBOB scholars.
5. What plans do you have for after graduation?
After graduation, I want to continue with my studies and start to make my dream come true of having my own business of industrial design.
6. Tell me an interesting fact about yourself.
One time, someone told me that happiness comes from being a better person every day, and when the sun rises every morning, you should thank God for all your blessings.
7. What do you like to do for fun?
I love to play sports and spend time with the people who are close to me.
By Jennifer Nicholas
Children Beyond Our Borders Inc. hosted its third annual salsa benefit, Dance for Good, last Friday in downtown Gainesville.
Dance for Good all started back in 2016 by Board Members Dr. Brendan Williams and Dr. Diana Montoya-Williams. What began as an event to honor both their wedding anniversary and their passion for giving back to the community, has turned into a CBOB yearly tradition. It annually brings the salsa-loving community together in Gainesville for a great cause- all of the proceeds go straight back to CBOB’s local programs.
There was never a dull moment at this year’s Dance for Good. The night was filled with live music, dancing, delicious food, raffles and a silent auction. As soon as our guests walked in, they were immediately greeted with a variety of popular Latin music played by Elio Piedra, a talented local artist in Gainesville. No one wasted any time getting out on the dance floor and showing off their best dance moves.
With all that dancing, our guests worked up an appetite. Omi’s Elegant Catering was generous enough to donate a variety of delicious food to our event. Our guests couldn’t get enough of the plantains, chicken, rice, coconut shrimp and more!
While taking a break from dancing and eating, guests had a chance to bid on our silent auction items. All of the silent auction items were graciously donated to us by generous individuals and local businesses. Auction items ranged from gift baskets, to gift certificates, to admission tickets and specialized items. Salsa Mundial donated two group class certificates, Zen Vibe Yoga donated an in-home private yoga session, St. George Inn & Suites donated a two-night stay, the Lowry Park Zoo donated two admission tickets, and the Curtis M. Phillips Center for Performing Arts donated tickets to the Nut Cracker, just to name a few!
We have our incredible event manager, Sonia Herrera, to thank for another amazing year of Dance for Good!
“All members of Children Beyond Our Borders worked together to make this event happen, even our members in Orlando,” Sonia said. “I’m super happy with how everything turned out. I think we had a really great turnout and everyone had a lot of fun.”
This event also would not have been possible without our wonderful development director, Valentina Betancur.
When asked about the event Valentina said, “Events in general are usually pretty hectic the day of and a lot of planning needs to go into them prior to the event date, so my development team really had to come together to make sure that the event turned out well. I have to say that it really came together in the end because everything looked amazing! My favorite part of the whole thing was the silent auction because we received a lot of cool donations for this event and it looked really nice when we set it up. Also, the food was absolutely delicious and I think our guests really appreciated it. Another thing that I absolutely loved to see was that everyone was having a really great time. Overall, it was a pretty tiring experience but it came together amazingly and I'm really happy that we were able to raise so much money for our local programs!”
Dance for Good was a huge success thanks to all of our donors, volunteers, and supporters. We could not have made the night such a success without the help from you all. Thank you to our donors who donated all of our amazing auction and raffle items. Thank you to all of our volunteers who donated their time and effort to ensure that the night ran smoothly. Thank you to all our supporters who bought tickets to the event and joined in on all the fun.
We cannot wait to see you all again next year for our fourth annual Dance for Good event!
by Allison Hoyle
I joined CBOB in 2007 after a friend from Sabor Latino, UF’s Latino Dance Team, mentioned it to me. I knew as soon as I met the executive team and the other volunteers it would be a life changing experience, but I had no idea at the time that CBOB would launch my career into non-profit education.
The children, of course, won me over. It was remarkable seeing their excitement and eagerness to come to our workshops every day after a full day of school. They advocated for their learning, and told us how they wanted to learn advanced math and to speak English. I would leave every day with letters and notes from the kids, and head home to prepare the lesson plan for the following day.
But it was really that first taste of teaching that hooked me. I loved the creativity of coming up with a lesson plan that would engage each child in the room in a slightly different way. I thoroughly enjoyed the rush of adrenaline I got from improvising if the lesson didn’t go quite according to plan. It’s electrifying to stand in front of a room of 60 energetic children and matching their energy in order to reach them. When you are finally able to make that connection and they learn something new, it feels amazing.
I joined CBOB because I was looking for community, but I truly learned about myself as an educator and as a leader. I found my way into the classroom after graduation. I started teaching elementary school with Teach For America and teaching in Overtown, Miami. Now I work as a Program Manager at Reading Partners, a national literacy organization that reaches about 1,000 students in New York City, and 11,000 nationally. I get to flex my teaching muscles and work with committed volunteers and educators that inspire me daily.
On the board of CBOB now, I am ecstatic to see how it has grown and increased its impact. It is wonderful hearing about hard-working volunteers going back to Cartagena and Medellin and the complex workshops they develop for the children.