Finding a Different Kind of Summer Vacation

By Mariela Rubio, PAIR Intern

This summer, I spent more time at PAIR than at home, thought about more “just-in-case” plans than you could imagine, and I had dreams about PAIR more than five times. Before now, I had never been a part of something I cared so passionately about, and for which I wanted to devote all of my effort and more. Honestly, PAIR and I are meant to be.

I didn’t plan to volunteer while I was home in Houston for the summer, until this spring, when I received the honor of being named a Rapoport Scholar for The University of Texas at Austin. My scholarship requires 200 hours of community service every summer and, while I was thrilled to receive this award, I was unsure how to find a volunteer opportunity that would be fulfilling and fun.

I began searching organizations online and I found nothing that interested me. I called different places, and all anyone had to offer was volunteering to file and sort papers. I wasn’t looking to do that for 200 hours. Thankfully, when I called PAIR, Nicole, the executive director, described to me what PAIR does and what my role could be if I decided to apply for a summer internship. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of helping youth from all over the world, teaching them new things about Houston and planning fun activities for them to enjoy.

After applying and being interviewed, I was selected to be a program manager for PAIR’s five-week summer Program. As a program manager, I recruited students by visiting them at school and at home, organized field trips, and planned daily social activities and other logistics. During sessions, I led a group of ten students and was able to interact with all 60 students in the program. My experience allowed me to both plan engaging activities and work directly with students, which was most rewarding.

Mariela and students at Brazos Bend State Park

Mariela and students at Brazos Bend State Park

Now that the summer program is over, I realize it was the students who taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I now see the best way to help your community is to find something you love and feel passionate about. Volunteering with PAIR was pure bliss. I would wake up in the morning excited, rather than having to drag myself out of bed. Going to the program and seeing the students’ faces, their big smiles, their eagerness to play, and their potential to be extraordinary people was so inspiring. It made me think that some people have the wrong idea about volunteering. To volunteer for the sake of it, without feeling a sense of purpose or benefit, is the wrong approach. I give my time, but I get so much in return. Just a few of the joys I received were hugs from the most adorable kids, a “Miss Mariela, I missed you” after one day of not seeing me, and Friday night phone calls asking, “Do we have program tomorrow?”

PAIR has not only allowed me to understand the needs of a population that is often ignored, but to be active in providing them with tools that will help in their success. Refugee families are sometimes dependent on the success of their children for prosperity. By providing refugee youth in our communities with support in their academics, as well as social and emotional development, we are helping their dreams to be doctors, teachers, and even FBI agents come true. And in turn, everyone can learn from the youth PAIR serves, who are eager to learn, appreciative of opportunities, understanding of right and wrong, and filled with love and humility. Volunteering with PAIR made me become aware that refugees have so much to contribute to society, and we can help make a difference for their future, our community, and the world!