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The Kay Family in Romania: A High School Student’s Reflections

Family volunteering in Romani

When 14-year-old Cassi Kay volunteered in Romania with her grandmother, Shirley and Aunt Colleen, she wasn’t aware how that experience would impact her future education. Her essay, “My Epiphany, “ submitted with six college applications, helped secure six admissions. Here is Cassi’s story:

“I was fourteen when I discovered what so many search for their whole life; the meaning of human existence. When I graduated from 8th grade, my grandmother took me on a trip to Romania to volunteer with mentally handicapped children living in an orphanage. There I learned so much about myself and humanity, that I will never be the same.

My heart dropped and butterflies filled my stomach as I thought about my trip. Although I was very eager to start my adventure I was also very confused as to what it would entail. When people asked me about my trip, I would respond with a generic smile and express the expected excitement…secretly I was terrified.

Could I break a baby? Was I still a baby?

What is in Romanian food? Does the movie Taken reflect international travel?

A multitude of questions spun through my head as nausea permanently settled into my stomach; that is until I saw the kids. After surviving the 16-hour flight and orientation, we walked over to the orphanage.

Sweat trickled down my forehead; a response to both the heat as well as the fear. This is where I received the worst welcoming imaginable as we were introduced to Maria-Cleopatra, who suffered from hydrocephalus. The volunteers were all told that the doctors had tried every surgery possible, but unfortunately there was nothing else that they could do for her.

I was taken aback. What happened to the usual “Hello. How’s your day?” I became grateful for the welcomes we received back home. I desperately wished Maria-Cleopatra wasn’t in the situation she was; but the naive child that I was needed that “welcome.” I realized instantly why I was there and subsequently why we are all here: To support. To believe. To love.

Family volunteering in Romania

Grandmother Shirley with Ion in Romania

Every child at that orphanage had a challenge every day that they fought to overcome. Our job was to support them in their struggle to succeed. To teach them that believing in their aspirations was instrumental in achieving them. Most importantly, to show love and let it be known that they and we are never alone.

After my trip, people always asked about my experience. I responded with an enlightened grin, understanding now that life is not solely about the pursuit of accomplishments, but an appreciation for every experience we encounter.”

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Interested in volunteering abroad with your teenage children?

Visit our Volunteer as a Family page to learn more about family volunteering opportunities worldwide, or request our family volunteering tip sheet using the form below.

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