What is your spark?
I think my spark is inclusion and togetherness. I love connecting different groups of people for a greater cause. My past service collaboration, focused on orphaned kids, included different groups of individuals, businesses, and local and international nonprofit organizations. I truly enjoy putting small pieces together.
What is your motivation for community service?
Growing up, I was given all the necessary financial opportunities by my family to receive great education and be successful no matter what I do in life. Having worked with orphans and opportunity youth in the past, I have witnessed the hardships these kids face. Our families form our core personality; the absence of it means there is an empty space inside the kid’s soul that can never be fulfilled. The reason why I am a part of the projects working with orphan youth and opportunity youth is because I would like them to have same possibilities in life that I had and help them successfully adapt to adulthood. I have sacrificed some of the personal goals for this cause because I truly believe in it.
How did you hear about GYSD?
I am a former participant of a FLEX exchange program that provides opportunities for overseas high school students to spend one academic year at an American high school and learn about American culture and community service. Once you graduate from the program, you start receiving an alumni newsletter with the announcement of projects. That’s the great thing about the program – you become a part of network of opportunities and can keep up with the other fellows’ initiatives. American Councils who coordinate the FLEX program, are also a part of YSA’s Lead Agency program. In 2013 I submitted a GYSD proposal to American and soon after received the funds. American Councils is very involved in alumni community projects and helps them every step of the way.
Describe your project and how it helped others
My team organized a sports event for kids from one of the orphanages in Moscow. The event took place downtown, in recently renovated Gorky Park, and included community building exercises for those kids throughout the day. Even though the orphanage is located in the city center, the kids spend most of their time inside and are not allowed to go outside without permission. The sports event gave kids an opportunity to interact with different people who supported the event – business owners and people working for nonprofit organizations- and learn more about the connection between sport activities and a healthy life. Having worked with orphaned kids in the past, I know how hard it is for them to communicate with outsiders. Since they did not grow up in a supporting family, there is always a feeling of not being valued or noticed. Me and my team developed a series of exercises where kids build trust in other people and start being more interested in learning about them and feel more confident about themselves.
What challenges you faced in your project?
The biggest challenge was related to overall management. I always try hard to make everything work smoothly. Being in a leadership role is never easy, but it pays off when you see the results and the impact you have made with your efforts. I have definitely learned a lot and continue using this experience in my future projects.
What advice would you give to those planning a project on GYSD this year?
Come up with doable ideas. The project must be measurable and specific. I know you all can and are willing to save the entire world, but start with something small that can inspire bigger actions. Be very outspoken – share your plans with everyone you know. You never know where the support may come from. And save the receipts – very important when it comes to reporting. Lastly, enjoy it as much as you can.
What does GYSD mean to you?
Since I was a GYSD grantee conducting a project on the other side of the planet, it felt like being a part of something bigger . . . a global movement. I truly believe that small-scale activism inspires others’ actions and the impact can multiply at a high speed. When you see that your youth are changing the world at the same time as you, you feel that you are connected and share the same passion for serving the community. Combined, those actions can make a very big difference. My GYSD event inspired youth leaders in other cities to conduct similar projects. I was really happy when I heard about it.
How did GYSD project in 2013 influenced your career path? What are you doing now and what do you plan to do in the future?
GYSD event was one of the steps that led me into starting my own initiative called Dream FUNding. Through my project, I help orphaned kids adapt to adulthood through a curriculum that I developed. I manage a team of volunteers in Moscow who are involved with SOS Children’s Villages in Tomilino, Russia. I am currently serving as an Atlas Corps Fellow at SOS Children’s villages in Washington, DC where I am helping develop a media strategy for the organization. When I graduate from the program, I plan to bring this experience back home and apply it to my Dream City project to make a bigger impact in my community.
 Opportunity Youth – sometimes referred to as “disconnected youth” – are defined as people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working. Out of the 38.9 million Americans who fall into the 16 – 24 age range, about 6.7 million can be described as Opportunity Youth.