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DYRS Youth Volunteer in the Dominican Republic

“I want to thank DYRS and everyone who put this together – a lot, endlessly. I don’t know how I could show my thanks, I can’t verbalize it. This has changed my life.”    -- M.N., age 18

M.N. is thanking the agency for sending him and eight other court-involved youth to the Dominican Republic to volunteer on behalf of underprivileged kids. This life-changing trip was the DYRS Youth Council’s first international service project.

Accompanied by staff from DYRS and DC YouthLink, the DYRS youth volunteered in Monte Christi, a rural port town with fewer resources than their own neighborhoods in DC, and soaked up local culture.

“In America, kids weren’t paying attention in school, and here we see that kids are eager to learn, so in the United States we have to understand that education is important. We have good education in America, so we might as well take advantage of it.”  -- O.P., age 17

Research has shown that the introduction of new experiences is a highly effective strategy for rehabilitating young adults. Many of the youth left DC for the first time when they traveled to the Caribbean to spend eight days teaching English to children and leading interactive games, group art projects, and other team-building activities. The lessons were aimed at the Dominican 4th graders, but also contributed to the DC youths’ learning and self-discovery.

“I enjoyed [working with] the kids the most…I’m normally not an interactive person, but I  connected the most with the ‘bad’ kids who were running around and disrupting class, because when I was their age, I was just like them. When I was their age people told me I wasn’t gonna be anything. Now I’ve just graduated [high school], I am about to go to college, and I just had a trip to the DR! I wish I could speak Spanish so could tell them that; the next time I come down here, I will.”   -- R.S., age 19

Beyond their service learning, organized on behalf of DYRS by Education First, the youth had opportunities to swim, hike and explore the world beyond Washington, DC. The youth kept journals, took pictures, and recorded video. This first-hand material will be compiled in a video to motivate other DYRS youth.

All nine youth on the trip belong to the DYRS Youth Council, which the agency founded to give youth a structured way to give back to the DC community. Its members gain experience in leadership, community service, and career development. The youth in the DYRS Youth Council volunteer locally for organizations such as DC Central Kitchen and speak on behalf of DYRS at meetings and forums, inspiring by example hundreds of DC young people to make better choices to improve their lives and their communities.

DYRS Director Neil Stanley said, “By volunteering to help those less fortunate than themselves, our youth are developing empathy, compassion, and their own self-worth.” He added, “The chance to broaden their perspectives and life experiences beyond their own neighborhoods is powerful for young adults who are making big transitions in their lives.”