Janet Ku, 2013
My name is Janet, and I’m originally from Seattle, Washington. I have my Bachelor’s in Neuroscience from Smith College, and I’m currently studying to get my Master’s in Nursing at Boston College. So far I have spent two summers working with Sprout, and I cannot wait to spend more! I have volunteered with different organizations in the past, but I have to say that working with Sprout has been one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences of my life.
I first found out about Sprout while searching for internships online. I was interested in it partly because I was tired of working in dark research labs during my summers off, and partly because I wanted to try to become a more independent and adventurous person. Through my undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, I had some basic knowledge about developmental disabilities, but I wanted to learn more. Although I didn’t have much hands-on experience, I was willing to learn and Sprout was willing to teach me!
The first day I got to New York City, I was both excited and terrified. It was a huge city to navigate, and I had only been there a couple times before. This mix of emotions followed me to my first trip to Washington, DC. Thankfully, my two co-leaders immediately set me at ease with their friendliness and humor. With their help, I quickly settled into my role as a leader and began to build connections with the participants. We went to all the different monuments and landmarks in DC, like the White House, the Smithsonian, and the Washington Monument. We were even able to do an amazing twilight bus tour of the city. I remember that one participant knew almost as much as the tour guide about the city’s history! By the end of the trip, I was confident that this would be one of the best summers of my life.
The most rewarding part of Sprout is witnessing the excitement of the participants, and helping them to have the best trip possible. I love that we as leaders are able to catalyze these exciting experiences for the participants. It can be something as simple as getting ice cream after dinner, or as once-in-a-lifetime as meeting their favorite character at Disney World. Every trip brings a multitude of these experiences, and each experience reminds me of how special and wonderful the world can be.
Even with the rewarding parts of Sprout, it is inevitable that there are challenges as well. Fortunately, the challenges are what bring the leaders together. On any given trip, plans can be canceled, things can end up costing more than you expect, or several participants can fall ill at once. The responsibility can be a lot at times, but we laugh and joke through the stress, and we always have the support of the Sprout staff to fall back on.
So – if anyone is deciding whether or not to volunteer with Sprout, my suggestion is to get past your uncertainty and just do it! Yes, it’s not the easiest job, and some days you will wonder what you have gotten yourself into. But then a participant will say that they don’t want to go home because this was the best experience of their life, and you’ll be reminded of why you signed up. In the end, the trips are not about you, but about the participants. Nonetheless, this experience has done so much for me, and helped me to grow both personally and professionally. It has helped me with my confidence and my leadership skills. It’s given me amazing memories and lifelong friends. And most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to make a difference in a unique and empowering way.