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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

I posted several months ago about the Prudential Spirit of Community awards program.  This program recognizes students around the US who make the world a better place by volunteering.

Super cool news! I got to interview Suzanne Luff of Colorado, one of the program honorees. Here’s here bio: Suzanne Luff, 18, of Colorado Springs, Colo., a senior at Colorado Springs Christian High School, created a program called “Hats-4-Hope” that has recruited volunteers to hand-knit 2,600 tiny hats for premature babies in the neo-natal intensive care unit of a local hospital. Suzanne’s brother was given a baby hat when he was born, but it was thin and made out of a sock. She thought she could make something better, and realized how important it is for premature infants to have substantial, warm hats to cover their heads. “The head is the temperature control of the body, and to keep a steady temperature, a premature baby often needs a hat to keep in its body heat,” she explained. Suzanne contacted a hospital to see if she could donate hats, and then began seeking volunteers among her classmates and Sunday school students to help her knit hats. One of her biggest challenges, she said, is finding reliable, long-term volunteers; many start strong but then lose interest over time. She now has close to 100 dedicated helpers. First, she teaches them how to knit a hat, and then she supplies them with yarn and looms that she obtains from donors. Suzanne started with a goal of producing 1,000 hats by the time she graduated from high school. After a recent delivery, she is now up to 2,600 hats. “I am excited to see what my volunteers and I can do in the next year,” she said.

And our interview:

How old were you when you first volunteered, and what prompted you to do so?I was probably in late elementary school when I first started volunteering. I am sure that my first volunteering opportunity was at my church and that it was a small role in a bigger project but it helped me begin the process of volunteering. I was probably prompted by my parents to help out but once I knew the amazing benefits of volunteering it was easy to continue volunteering in many different areas of the community.

What’s the biggest reward you personally get from volunteering?There are many rewards that come to volunteers. For me, I love knowing that someone else’s life is just a little better because of my work. Whether that is helping them in a large way that they will remember for a while, or just giving them a smile and brightening their day. It doesn’t matter what I gain from volunteering because the point of volunteering is giving of your time and resources to make someone else’s life easier.

What’s the hardest thing about volunteering? The hardest part about volunteering is finding consistent time to volunteer. It is easy to take a weekend and serve at a soup kitchen or help build a house, which are both great opportunities, but it is much harder finding opportunities to consistently serve the community. Giving time every week or every day is one of the hardest things about volunteering.

If you could offer some advice to a young person who isn’t currently volunteering anywhere, what would you say? Any young person can volunteer. Volunteering can come in many different forms and a person’s first volunteering opportunity doesn’t have to be changing the world. Starting off with a small project is probably the best plan. Seeing the results of that small project will encourage you to keep pursuing the projects that follow your passions. If you find your passion, follow that because you will be so much more dedicated and excited if you love what you are doing.

Do you plan to continue with your current efforts, or do you see yourself moving to another area of service in life? I definitely plan on continuing my efforts with my organization. This summer was a great summer of dedication and serving. It has really refueled my desire to continue. Even though I am in college I would love to continue my community service with the people I am around now and the people back home will be continuing as well. I am also serving up here in different areas, mainly tutoring at local organizations. I will always love serving and as I go further in life, I know there will always be opportunities in my life to serve whether big or small.

How has your volunteering affected your life and/or career goals? Volunteering has affected my life because it has given me the opportunity to serve my community. I have expanded my horizons and I have gained connections with people I would have never had the opportunity to meet. Serving has also shown me that the world has such a need for genuine people helping out in any way possible. Volunteering is something that is not to build up your own self confidence but to help out someone else. In my future I see myself continuing in volunteering. I also see my career as a type of service. I want to be a middle school or high school math teacher and I have found that a true and genuine teacher should be serving their students by giving their time and love to the students they teach. Volunteering affects every part my life and will continue to change my perspective of life.

Thanks so much, Suzanne! It’s people like you who make the world a better place.