It is an honor to introduce one of the most charitable and compassionate people I know as this week’s Sunny Star: Christina Burcelis. Christina recently graduated from La Reina High School and she has started her first year as a Trojan at USC. I met Christina through National Charity League, where she was honored with the Spirit Award for her shining smile and positive attitude as a Ticktocker. I hope you are inspired to give back, just like Christina does, after you read her story!
1. What is HOBY and how did you first get involved? How did the program affect your happiness?
CB: HOBY (pronounced HO-BE) ( Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership) is a program that helps high school sophomores see their true potential as a leader. At HOBY their motto is to “empower.lead.excel” as well as to inspire the global community of youth to a life dedicated to service, leadership and innovation. I got involved with this program through listening to one announcement in homeroom. That one announcement changed my life and my views of the world forever. I had learned that there was an all expense paid 3 day seminar that was allowing one sophomore student from my school to attend this free leadership seminar. At the time I was extremely passionate about leadership, and still am to this day. I applied and wrote the required essay and later on that week found out I had been nominated as the La Reina High School ambassador for HOBY. Extremely excited yet very nervous, I went into the HOBY seminar as my true and honest self. I wanted people to see the real me, not the girl who was shy and quiet. On the inside I was super confident, poised, and outgoing, and I let that all out when I attended. It turns out that being yourself can really bring out your happiness. I sure know it did for me. I learned that people will love you for who you are no matter what. When attending the seminar I had realized that people didn’t judge me, they respected who I was and appreciated how confident and friendly I was towards everyone. By meeting friends and realizing that they liked my real personality made even more happy!!This program as most HOBY alums would say is absolutely “OUTSTANDING!”
2. Can you tell us about your leadership experience with HOBY and how did this add to your happiness?
CB: Not only did I attend the 3-day leadership seminar, but I also attended the World Leadership Congress (WLC- the highest level of HOBY). The WLC brings together approximately 400 high school students from around the world for a week-long, intensive educational program. This honestly blew my mind. I was shocked to see how people from all over the entire world had the same desire and passion to help change the world as I did. While there, I was able to meet with sophomore ambassadors from places like the Philippines, Taiwan, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Nigeria; the list truly can keep going. Most average sophomores wouldn’t be able to say their best friend lives in England. Or that they know the prince of Nigeria. Being with a group of leaders that aspire to be some of the greatest leaders of the world was truly an honor to see. It was great to see how even though we all came from different parts of the world and have extremely diverse backgrounds, we came together as a group, we set aside our differences and focused on our similarities. We learned about one another’s backgrounds and grew as stronger individuals by appreciating what we have in our lives that other people at times are deprived of, such as freedom of speech. By attending both the HOBY seminar and the World Leadership Congress (WLC) it brought a whole different meaning to my life. I became a stronger and more passionate individual, who even though at the time was a 16 year old sophomore, I saw the true potential of not only myself, but of the world. It still brings a smile to my face to see that over 400 sophomores from all over the world can come together annually and learn to appreciate each other no matter their race, culture or creed. Think about if our world would do the same! There is so much hope for our future generation. If these young world leaders can set aside their differences now, we may have a shot at world peace for the future.
3. What has been the most challenging aspect of the program and how has this tested your happiness?
CB: At times while attending the World Leadership Congress, I found it challenging to adapt to different cultures and the diverse lifestyles that the ambassadors had. I come from a small town in California, went to an all girls’ catholic school, played water polo, golfed, went to church, and hung out with friends. That truly was what my life consisted of. So while there, it was hard for me to really understand or even grasp the idea that these ambassadors lived entirely different lives. Its odd hearing people who have never been to the beach or as many people in the Midwest call it “the sea”; all they have ever come close to is a man made lake or pond. As a native Californian, we practically live by the beach, yet at times we can take it for granted. Differences in other’s lives whether big or small was really hard to understand. I hated thinking about how some of the people that stood in front of me had struggled to survive through wars, hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism, etc. and yet to think I am one of the lucky ones who have not faced any of it was a shock to me. It was a challenge to see that there are teens my age, who have gone through so much in their young lives and yet they stood in front of me with a bright smile and optimistic manner. It was absolutely astonishing to see!
4. You have a passion for volunteering. How does helping others add to your happiness?
CB: I am extremely passionate about volunteering because I feel that I learn from the people I help whether it is by working with Special Olympics or volunteering at the American Cancer Society. I find that each person has a story and by speaking with many of the athletes or cancer patients, I become more aware of the world and the people in it. They inspire me to do things I never dreamt of doing, and to never give up on my dreams and aspirations. Through volunteering I not only benefit others through helping them with either their disabilities or challenges in their lives, I also benefit from learning more about myself. I think learning more about who you are as a person will bring you great happiness in not only your life but other’s lives. “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi
5. What has been your most rewarding experience when serving others? How happy were you during this experience?
CB: Whether it’s volunteering as a leader or volunteering with philanthropies, I feel that it is all a rewarding experience. I know that being a leader at HOBY has made me see how influential I am in the ambassadors’ lives, and that I can help change the world one person at a time. It’s a great feeling to know that you were a part of something greater than yourself. Till this day, even though my ambassador year of HOBY is done, it is still one of the highlights of my life. You know how people get super excited at a football game and just scream at the top of their lungs rooting for their favorite team? That’s basically how passionate I am about this program and about volunteering. My family has always taught me that it is better to give than to receive. I give my 100% to serving others and expect nothing in return ( a smile would be nice though !) I feel that HOBY and working with various philanthropies has given me the strength and motivation to not be afraid to help my community but also the world!