If you read our previous blog post about Global Youth Service Day (April 29-May 1), you already know that it is, according to its website, “the largest youth service and civic action event in the world and the only one that celebrates and builds the capacity of all youth ages 5-25 to help our communities and democracy thrive by working together for the common good.” And that the idea behind Global Youth Service Day (and its organization, Youth Service America) is to create a culture of participation among kids and young adults to establish young leaders and help communities thrive.

And if you read our previous blog post, you already met Grace Probst, a Bridgeway Academy 11th grader who epitomizes what Global Youth Service Day is all about–and represents our community in a way that goes beyond her years. Grace takes community service to another level, and we’re here to share her story.

Community Service Is in Her DNA

Grace has been participating in community service events and initiatives for the past 10 years, which puts her around age 5 or 6 when she began to understand the importance and inherent good in volunteering to assist others in need. Grace’s first community service experience involved collecting and donating toys with the Toys for Tots program, and that simply got the ball rolling. Since then, Grace, an 11th grader with Bridgeway Academy, has gotten involved with initiatives such as the AJC Empty Stocking Fund, MUST Ministries, fundraisers, park cleanups, clothing drives, and so much more. But there’s one event that stands out for Grace.

“One of the community service events that genuinely touched my heart was a fundraiser for Pickens Animal Rescue,” Grace explained. “Instead of an eighth birthday party, I held a fundraiser for the local animal rescue. I raised over $500 through that event, which enabled a dog to have much-needed eye surgery, relieving him from the pain and suffering he was experiencing.”

Amazing.

Through Bridgeway Academy, Grace participated in the My Community Project 2020, which she says was her favorite community service experience yet. After creating a marketing plan and distributing marketing fliers, Grace held an animal rescue supply drive, collecting a significant amount of supplies and approximately $100 in cash for an animal rescue. “Delivering the supplies to the rescue was the most gratifying and heartfelt part of the experience,” said Grace. “Seeing the excitement in the animal rescue staff’s faces was something I will never forget. Moreover, knowing that I helped those animals was exceptionally rewarding.”

, Global Youth Service Day: Grace Probst Lives to Give
, Global Youth Service Day: Grace Probst Lives to Give

Grace Acting for Compassion

Grace also participates in Bridgeway Academy’s Act for Compassion and, through Compassion International, sponsors an African child named Ezekiel. Through this sponsorship, Grace maintains regular communication with Ezekiel and has learned about his lifestyle and day-to-day activities. Beyond Ezekiel, being involved with Act for Compassion allows Grace to actively participate in helping other children as well. Through her participation and during Act Day, where our student volunteers put themselves in the shoes of others less fortunate to truly understand what it’s like to be in their situations, Grace gets a “vividly clear perception of the trials, tribulations, and challenges these people face–actively helping these people through fundraising creates an unmatched feeling of fulfillment.”

Speaking about her Act Day experiences, Grace brings up the “water challenge”, where students volunteer to use a very limited amount of water for an entire day so they better comprehend how others live within a limited means. “I used only 5 gallons of water for an entire day–I drank a gallon of water for the day, and I only flushed the toilet once,” Grace explained. “From there, I used some of the water for my pets, cooking my two meals, washing dishes, and washing my face and brushing my teeth. Although I was able to get by on 5 gallons for one day, I can feel how problematic only having that amount of water could be…I can only imagine how excruciatingly difficult life would be carrying on days, weeks, and months with this bit of water.”

What Community Service Means to Grace

If everyone took volunteering and community service to heart as much as Grace does, this world would be a much warmer and friendlier place. She simply gets the big picture when it comes to what community service is all about. “Community service allows me to be an active and engaged member of my community,” Grace said. “I want to help, I can help, and I am motivated to help. If everyone takes a step to make a difference, the world will be a better place.”

“Everything has to start with one person, and everyone has this opportunity to make positive change, including me.”

It’s that type of thinking that makes Grace appreciative of Bridgeway Academy and the importance it places on community service. Not only does Bridgeway encourage students of all ages to become active in their communities, we also require our high school students to perform community service based on the belief that students should live beyond themselves and assist those within their communities.

“Bridgeway Academy has a community service focus that is exemplary and praiseworthy,” Grace commented. “The focus on charity, giving of oneself, and servant leadership goes above and beyond what other academic organizations require of their students. Bridgeway students experience, in real time, the distinctive and remarkable sense of fulfillment of contributing to meaningful causes.

“Community service through Bridgeway expands students’ horizons and creates a student body with lifelong commitments to being servant leaders,” continued Grace. “I am honored and privileged to be able to participate in these opportunities.”

How Bridgeway Academy Builds Community Spirit and Socialization Among Students

Creating a sense of community is a difficult task for an online school or homeschool academy. After all, you have so many different people from so many different backgrounds in so many different locations–being able to organize events and community outreach opportunities can be quite a logistical challenge. But Bridgeway Academy prides itself on its ability to still cultivate a strong community spirit, and community service is at the heart of the efforts because it brings together like-minded individuals who share a common goal–making a difference in the lives of others.

“Bridgeway Academy is in a unique position concerning community service and its effects on its global student body,” said Grace. “Bridgeway students who participate in community service create a feeling of camaraderie, sharing their common experiences when volunteering. Although each of the student’s efforts may seem small individually, the collectiveness of the Bridgeway efforts creates a feeling of global commitment and purpose.”

Along with the obvious good that comes with participating in community service and helping others in need, Bridgeway Academy students seize the opportunity to socialize with their peers from across the world in their community service efforts. Not many other schools can make that claim. And, given the stigma concerning homeschooled students and socialization, these opportunities further put to rest the myth that homeschoolers miss out on socializing with others. Grace has experienced this first-hand and agrees with that assessment.

“Getting out in the community to engage in community service events allows participants a greater reach into society, networking opportunities, and improved social skills,” explained Grace. “Also, volunteers can meet neighbors and others in the community, connecting the volunteer to opportunities outside of the event.”

, Global Youth Service Day: Grace Probst Lives to Give
, Global Youth Service Day: Grace Probst Lives to Give

Grace also brings up a great point about how community service, while teaching students how important it is to help those in need, also serves as a bridge to future opportunities–whether that’s educational, career-oriented, social, or a combination of all. “Community service builds and improves skills that a student will need in the future workplace and allows the student to ‘try out’ a career,” Grace commented. “It is a valuable experience to practice socializing in different environments.”

Like our many other amazing student-volunteers, Grace simply gets what community service is and should be about, and we couldn’t be more proud of her and her fellow Bridgeway Academy students who volunteer their time to help others around them. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for these wonderful young men and women, and we hope that they continue their service and encourage others to do the same–the world needs more love and kind human beings just like Grace to keep making a difference.