By Nikolija Zlatevska (YES 2022-2023, North Macedonia, placed by PAX in Rogers, AR)
Before embarking on a volunteering journey during her exchange year, Nikolija Zlatevska never could have imagined its profound impact on her life. Having dedicated over 350 hours to various causes, she knows that experience extends far beyond a mere accumulation of hours. It has transformed her in ways she never thought possible, fostering personal growth, community development, and an unwavering sense of purpose.
During her exchange year in Arkansas, she wanted to make an impact and leave a legacy. Nikolija didn't just want to leave an impression; she tried to leave behind something more significant than that, not only to the people around her but also to her school and living community. She wanted to give back to them for welcoming and accepting her into their hearts. The best way to do that, at least for her, was by volunteering and doing acts of kindness.
Nikolija volunteered at food banks, churches, youth groups, school events, community clean-ups, and much more; aside from that, she also created her own. "In September, my goal was to do 100 community service hours by the end of the school year," said Nikolija. "December quickly came when I realized I had passed my goal. That just made me convinced that I shouldn't stop there! So, I continued to 200 and then 300. And by the time I was flying home, I had over 350 volunteer hours.
However, what made me happy wasn't the numbers; it was the look on people's faces after I had done something for them. I learned that even sharing a smile with someone could improve their day. Helping others grew my heart; I now love spreading happiness by doing simple and big things when possible."
Despite volunteering in various ways during her exchange year, her passion for helping others increased. One of her favorite things she did was in collaboration with Hugs for Ukraine, where, with the leadership of her culinary teacher, Mrs. Tuttle, and the FCCLA club, they made traditional meals for Ukrainian refugees living in Arkansas. The woman who won Ukraine's Voice even sang at the event!
"After that event, I felt incredible," said Nikolija. "Seeing the expression on everyone's faces after they had tried the food filled my heart with joy." Also, in honor of kindness week, she made over 40 bookmarks, hand-painted, handwritten, and laminated. These bookmarks had inspirational quotes and words of kindness, and she put them in books in her school library and gave them to teachers and students.
Nikolija says the volunteering hours were more than a commitment; they've catalyzed her personal growth. "Every moment spent working alongside diverse individuals, tackling unforeseen challenges, and lending a helping hand has improved my empathy, communication skills, confidence, and resilience. Stepping out of my comfort zone and adapting to new environments has strengthened my confidence and equipped me with invaluable life skills beyond volunteering."
Over those 350 hours, she's witnessed firsthand the power of collective action in community development. Whether cleaning up local parks, tutoring underserved students, or participating in food drives, each interaction and effort contributed to a larger tapestry of positive change. These experiences have ingrained in her a deep sense of responsibility towards her community, as she experienced how the cumulative effects of our actions ripple out to touch the lives of those around us.
"My accumulation of over 350 volunteer hours has been a transformative journey that has shaped me into a more empathetic, resilient, and purpose-driven individual. By participating in the KL-YES Program, I've witnessed the incredible potential of dedicated individuals coming together to create lasting change. As I reflect on the countless interactions, challenges, and moments of fulfillment, I remember that this journey is not just about the hours; it's about the immeasurable impact that arises when passion meets action. It doesn't end here; I will continue implementing projects and giving back to my community in North Macedonia."