It’s the time of year for summer trips — but not everyone will take a typical vacation. Several area residents have found a way to mix volunteerism in with their getaways and have also found how much of a difference making a difference has made in their own lives.

Contributing to social change

During a trip to the Dominican Republic, Elishia Carrillo and her family interacted with indigenous people outside of typical tourist settings. Their trip began at an orphanage, where they helped with construction and education, as well as with food distribution and at a clinic in a refugee camp. They then wrapped up the experience with some downtime at a resort.

Carrillo notes that her family was thankful to have a quiet end to their trip that allowed them to reflect and process everything they’d experienced.

“While we thought we were going to help needy people in the Dominican Republic, and we did, our family walked away the most improved,” she says.

Her family is now looking forward to the next volunteerism trip on their bucket list: one to Guatemala to help locals build a “bottle school.” This green initiative unites villagers and volunteers with three objectives: educating children, ridding communities of trash by creating “ecobricks” out of water bottles stuffed with trash, and contributing to environmental conservation.

The sooner Guatemalan children get new schools, the better, Carrillo notes.

“Our family believes that education is very important, and we’re helping to improve their chances of getting an education and changing their situation,” she says.

She adds that as they’re helping others, volunteerism renews their spirit of gratefulness and gratitude.

“It reminds us that we have an obligation to help others who are not as fortunate as we are, and the payback is 100 times what you ever imagined.”

Making a difference close to home

For Sarah Davis and her family, it’s not necessary to be part of any kind of organized effort or even to go very far from home to leave a mark on the world. For a week last summer, for example, they visited western Kansas and donated items to a school supply drive.

“We try to leave a little joy wherever we roam,” she says. “Like reverse souvenirs. Memories last longer anyway.”

And her family has found no shortage of opportunities. Because it’s fun for her children to “buy” items on a trip, other things they’ve done on Midwest vacations have included sponsoring their favorite animal at a zoo, making a contribution to a veteran’s memorial and simply carrying snacks and water bottles for anyone they come across who might need one.

“Then we have the memory of helping and the happy feeling, but not extra clutter in the suitcase,” Davis says. “You don’t have to do big elaborate things to make the world a better place.”

A move for a mission

When Isaac Sykes visited Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Va., early this year, it turned out to be the first step toward a major move in his life.

The school is a child rescue ministry where students live in dorms on a campus and are designated hall parents, each hall grouped according to a grade from first through 12th. A majority of students have come from other countries.

“That’s what makes it so unique,” Sykes says, adding that having been adopted from another country himself, he felt able to connect well with a lot of the students.

He’d originally met staff from the school a couple of months earlier, at a conference for international missions in Cincinnati last November. He’d felt led for the previous year to do some kind of work with orphans or at-risk kids — but not having a college education in social work, he wasn’t sure how to go about that until meeting the Mountain Mission School staff.

His visit to the school in January and February felt like much more than a short-term mission trip; it felt like where he belonged. With his background as a welder and with other mechanical skills, he was able to work one-on-one with students in a shop class. And when he moves to Virginia this month to join the school’s staff, he’ll be doing more of that as well as acting as a hall parent.

“Honestly, it felt like what God has been preparing me for my whole life,” Sykes says. “It’s more than just a school. It’s more than just a home for previously at-risk kids. It’s family.”