by Karin Fazio
Since 2003, when Children Beyond Our Borders Inc.(CBOB) was founded by four University of Florida students, our organization has welcomed and said goodbye to many beloved individuals who impacted the organization in some shape or form. Although we excitedly welcome new groups of interns and volunteers each semester, we never forget our past members and their contributions to this organizations.. As much as we hate to see them depart, we know our CBOB family is off to achieve tremendous adventures and opportunities, impacting their communities along the way.
Dragana Tabakovic was involved with CBOB during Spring 2014 until Fall 2015 as part of the Volunteer Internship Program (VIP). Tabakovic spent her time with CBOB as the Volunteer Manager. For Tabakovic, the start of the second semester was a rewarding moment for her. With VIP being fairly new, Tabakovic got to see all the potential it held. By the following semester, she was able to watch as the program flourished, as it doubled in size and became much more diverse and successful.
“I originally started as a BFP (then Crossing Borders) volunteer in 2012. The experience completely shaped my college career and the friendships I maintained. Like most post-grads, I had a stint of lostness and didn't have much direction. VIP helped me guide my passion and transition after college, but also I found myself learning SO MUCH from the interns. They had a lot of different education and skill backgrounds and brought so much to the table,” Tabakovic said.
For any incoming interns, Tabakovic suggests to “use your time at CBOB wisely! There is an unlimited amount of little gems within the organization for everyone to tap into.”
Now, Tabakovic works as a family crisis manager at a local mental wellness organization that works with Baker Acts, people experiencing homelessness and families that are in a state of crisis. Tabakovic connects families to resources within the community, including resources our organization has, and gets them back on track to overcome whatever obstacles they may have (whether that be housing, childcare, utilities, rent, etc.).
Acacia Douglas went on three volunteer trips with CBOB, traveling to Medellin twice and attending the founding trip to Ecuador. Douglas was the Fundraising Coordinator for the UF chapter and explains CBOB as life changing for her. For her second trip, Douglas was given the opportunity to be a trip leader.
“Sharing my passion and love for CBOB with these new volunteers was an incredible feeling.” Douglas recounts her experience with the kids during her trip as indescribable. Despite the fact that she was not a fluent Spanish speaker, she was still able to connect with those around her and was impacted by the children she encountered.
“My experience with CBOB truly taught me love knows no language,” Douglas said. CBOB helped Douglas find her passion for education. For anyone going on a service trip, Douglas recommends to listen to the service trip leaders because they really work hard to provide the best training, trips, and experience.
“Know the reason you’re going! These trips will offer a chance to see and do things you never have before, but they are bonuses and a chance to see the culture of the country. If you go with an open mind and are ready to serve, you will have the most amazing and life changing experience of your life,” Douglas said.
Today, Douglas works with at-risk youth to help them go to college by providing them with a volunteer mentor and 2-year Florida prepaid scholarship. Douglas serves as their Student Advocate and college success coach. Some of her ‘Take Stock Scholars’ came out to one of our recent events in Alachua, the Back to School Bash.
“It felt so amazing to see my two favorite organizations come together and collaborate! My heart was so full!” Douglas says joyfully.
Catherine Phillips got involved with CBOB in 2014 through the Bound For Peace service trip. Even though Phillips did not have much knowledge about Colombia, she was eager to go when Tabakovic approached her about the trip. During her trip, Philips, along with many other volunteers, worked with roughly 100-120 children. While they were there, they taught workshops that focused on personal development and empowerment, as well as played countless games and activities.
“The two weeks I spent in Colombia are, to date, the best two weeks of my life. The amount of love and zest those kids have for life, in the midst of their environment, is inspiring,” explains Phillips.
To her surprise, Phillips went to change the lives of those children when in reality, they changed her. Phillips will never forget when she first drove up to the foundation with the other volunteers. While laughing, talking, and documenting their time through pictures and videos, Phillips explains the feeling of genuine excitement she could feel in the air on the bus. She will always remember the silence that shifted throughout the bus as they took in their surroundings of the Olaya Herrera Community and describes this moment as ‘extremely powerful.’ The volunteers got to see the environment, which helped them establish a deeper connection with the people they met. Phillips participated in two more trips after this one; no trip is the same, but they all brought the same feeling of fulfillment. Phillips formed lifelong relationships and unforgettable memories.
For anyone thinking of going on a BFP trip Phillips says, “It will be the single greatest decision you make this year. It is challenging yet rewarding experience, and I promise you will return home a changed person because of it.”
Phillips even says the language barrier can be daunting but the kids just want your affection and love. There’s also always a few volunteers who speak Spanish well. For anyone going on a trip:
“Live in the moment. Go with an open mind, be ready to learn and have fun! Enjoy every second that you have with children, eat as much food as you can, and just soak in the sunshine. Let the kids teach you the dances. Teach them games. Be present. There’s an indescribable feeling you receive when you go and share life with these children. I can’t explain it, but when you feel it, and you will, you will understand why I fell in love with city,” Phillips said.
Phillips now lives in California and, though she is not actively involved with CBOB, the CBOB motto and mission stays with her everywhere she goes. Since moving, Phillips has finished getting her Teaching English as a Foreign Language license and is now currently applying to teach abroad with the hopes to empower even more children.
As you can see, former CBOB members are accomplishing amazing things in their communities. To no surprise, they are continuing to impact lives in their communities, just as they did when they were involved with CBOB. We wish all of our alumni the best of luck with their future endeavors and cannot wait to see what they fulfill as they become positive leaders to others.