OAK PARK, Ill., May 26, 2015 – Local Oak Park small business, Spirit Cultural Exchange, is sending student volunteers to Ecuador this summer on scholarships for its Volunteer Abroad program that cover living expenses and program costs. Recipients of these scholarships, Rita Hess and Alex Elizarraga, were recently matched to their volunteer project sites in Ecuador. Through a partnership between Spirit and its counterpart in Ecuador, Fundación Bolivar Education, both scholarship winners will live with a host family and participate in a volunteer program matched to their skillsets.
Rita Hess will complete a week of advanced Spanish lessons in Quito before spending two weeks volunteering at a girl’s orphanage in Cuenca. She will aid in organizing recreational activities for the children, helping with their homework, and helping them in developing life skills. When asked her motivation for participating in this project, “I am honored to take my advocacy from the community level to an international stage, helping inspire these girls to fulfill their dreams and push through the hardships they face,” said Hess.
Hess is a Spanish Linguistics and Pedagogy master’s candidate at Illinois State University (ISU). She currently serves on the executive board of ISU’s Sigma Delta Pi chapter (Spanish Honor Society) as secretary and has over 150 hours of community service and outreach. Hess studied abroad in Granada, Spain and has taught English as a second language to 120 students from Mexico through a university program.
Alex Elizarraga will also take one week of advanced Spanish lessons in Quito before volunteering at a summer camp for school-aged children.
Elizarraga recently graduated from Concordia College with a BA in Psychology and Spanish. On campus, he served as president for the Concordia Swim Club and debate captain for the Concordia Forensics. In his free time, Elizarraga volunteers as an elementary Spanish teacher for youth. He also remains active in his local community as a camp counselor, private Spanish tutor, and small group leader for various organizations. He aspires to become a high school counselor near his hometown in Oregon. “Many countries consist of people like my dad, who had to drop out at age 9 in order to work. I want to make a difference. I want to be the support that I was fortunate enough to receive,” said Elizarraga.