“I used to think of community service as hours that I needed to complete, but now I think of it as people’s lives I get to be a part of,” says Sugarsuren, a Senior at Roosevelt High School. He returned from his month-long trip to Costa Rica with a whole new outlook on what it means to give back. Sugarsuren spent his trip with a group of orphans, coaching them in baseball and teaching them basic skills.
A popular and charismatic football player, Surgarsuren always knew he could be a leader but until his two summer experiential trips, he didn’t know what kind. After moving from Mongolia with his family 5 years ago, Sugarsuren was looking to find a place in his new world. During the fall of his sophomore year he was introduced to Summer Search.
Summer Search aims to break the cycle of poverty and change the statistics on low-income students’ college completion. Currently, only 21% of low-income students in the U.S. complete college. The mission of Summer Search is to find resilient low-income high school students and inspire them to become responsible and altruistic leaders by providing year-round mentoring, two life-changing summer experiences, college advising, and a lasting support network.
While the trips immediately caught Sugarsuren’s attention, the weekly conversations with his mentor were harder to imagine. His mentor Rebecca recalls the first few months of his participation. “At first it was difficult for this jovial young man to talk about his challenges, emotions and experiences, but little by little he was able to show his vulnerable side as well. I think that really helped him have successful summer experiences.” The sacrifice his family made to move to the U.S. had an impact on Sugarsuren and he chose to use his weekly conversations to reflect on those sacrifices and learn strategies to cope with a new culture and find success in the U.S.
During their first summer in the program all Summer Search students participate in a three week wilderness expedition. Sugarsuren traveled to North Carolina with Outward Bound where he navigated through the wilderness and climbed mountains with 10 other young men. Upon his return he described the confidence he had in himself and was most proud of the bond he had made with his group. He also came back with a new motto on life – to “live big”.
And live big he has. With the help of his mentor and the Summer Search College Advisor he is currently in the process of applying to an array of colleges. His trip experiences, particularly his significant service experience in Costa Rica, have shaped the type of community he is looking for in a university. In 2009 98% of Summer Search students matriculated to college. The risk students take each summer prepares them for the ultimate risk of going away to college and the self-advocacy skills they learn from the mentoring help them adjust and succeed in the college culture.
In his reflection letter to Summer Search, Sugarsuren summed up his Costa Rica experience with this: “Just being there I felt like a superstar because having kids that I never knew, come up to me and say my name and hold my hands really touched my heart. I never felt so connected to people as I did during this trip.”
Want to Get Involved?
Contact Mike Quinn (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in working Summer Search or check out their website to to learn how to get engaged with their programs directly. You are also welcome to attend their annual luncheon on March 24th.