by Sienna VanGelder, a member of the SkillCorps® Dominican Republic February 2019 team

Brittney (the DR trip leader) and I sat down over some Café Santo Domingo to talk about SkillCorps, how it’s changed over the years, and how it changes you.

Q: When you first decided to apply for SkillCorps, what was your job and what did life look like at home?

A: I was working as a behavior analyst at a private school. I was new to Philadelphia and found myself alone in a brand new city.

Q: What made you decide to apply?

A: One of my friends had traveled with Global Autism before and had always encouraged me to go for it. I was looking for a way to travel but travel meaningfully. I looked at the site and applied!

Q: Were you fearful at all leading up to that first trip?

A: I was fearful that my skills as a behavior analyst wouldn’t be sufficient. But I learned that everybody has a different skill set and together you’re stronger than alone, and that made it less scary.

Q: How many trips have you gone on at this point?

A: My first trip was in 2015 in the DR and now I’m back for my 6th trip. Every trip I can do, I’d like to do for as long as I can.

Q: At orientation, Molly mentioned there is about a 50% alumni return rate. What do you think makes people keep coming back for more?

A: Being with people day in and day out, you form relationships really quickly and it feels really good to work together towards a common goal. Also being part of a network and knowing the sites have made progress and will continue make progress based on the model is really motivating. Finally, just being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself is what makes you keep wanting to come back.

Q: You mentioned you first traveled in 2015, how have you seen SkillCorps change over the years?

A: Probably the biggest thing is a quantifiable system to assess growth. In the beginning you went and supported the site’s identified areas of need but now we have an assessment to look at focus areas and to help development in skills acquisition, outreach, administrative work, and training. As a result, you can see where everything you’re working on fits into the larger picture for that site.

Q: What changes do you notice in yourself from that first orientation to now?

A: Oh- so much personal life growth. I went from someone who got nervous leaving my apartment building in a new city, to being able to lead groups of people to countries I’ve never been to. I’ve realized that there’s always a solution to the problems you may face, even if it’s not what you initially had in mind. The other big change was becoming comfortable with my skill set and recognizing there will always be more to learn and ways to grow, but what you currently have to offer is so valuable.