Volunteer Abroad Blog

Experience Ecuador with Spirit volunteers through our blog! All of our scholarship recipients document their volunteer experiences through a travel blog – experience Ecuador through their weekly blog posts each summer! 

Summer 2019 Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Recipients

Samantha BenigniSamantha Benigni is a Biomedical Sciences master's candidate at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. She served at the Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital as an Emergency Department Specialist and provided assistance to children in physical and occupational therapy sessions at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. Benigni volunteered as an EMT and has tutored 4th-8th grade students through Loyola4Chicago.

Benigni completed a week of Spanish lessons in Quito and spent four weeks volunteering at a hospital in the city. She spent time in the Pediatrics floor, Obstetrics floor, and Surgery floor. When asked her motivation for participating in this project, Benigni said, "I have known from a young age that I wanted to focus my life and career around being an advocate for patients who cannot speak up for themselves."

Salvador MedinaSalvador Medina, of Chicago, Illinois, is a Global Studies and Russian major at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He served in the Illinois Leadership Certificate Program as a Cohort Lead Mentor and developed his Russian skills by taking part in a Russian Language Intensive Program. Medina attended a summer trip in Grenada, Nicaragua as a Global Glimpse Ambassador and has worked at a YMCA.

Medina also completed a week of Spanish lessons in Quito before spending three weeks volunteering in Cotacachi, an artisenal town in Ecuador that is famous for its leather goods and handicrafts.

Summer 2018 Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Recipients

Scholarship Recipient Ana HernandezAna Hernandez was a student attending University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), working to obtain her Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences (with a minor in Psychology), when she received our 2018 scholarship. She has hopes of attending medical school and doing research on health literacy and health disparities in low socio-economic Hispanic communities after graduation. In 2018, Ana participated in Spirit’s Volunteer Abroad Program and traveled to Quito, Ecuador to volunteer at Pablo Arturo Suarez Hospital. “My experiences taking care of my grandmother and my younger siblings made me realize that I want a career where I get to heal people and advocate for my community,” said Ana.

Scholarship Recipient Monika StoskuteMonika Stoskute also studied at University of Illinois at Chicago, working to obtain a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Biology. On campus, she served as a Doctor Assistant Intern and Honors College Tutor. In her free time, Monika volunteered at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center. During college, she was also an active member of UIC’s Society of Future Physicians and a member of UIC’s Association of Pre-Medical Students. She aspires to create ties with a variety of people. “Having the opportunity to help others in Ecuador, and in return, receiving priceless experience, will help me develop into the best physician I can and create connections that will last a lifetime,” she said. Monika volunteered for four weeks at Pablo Arturo Suarez Hospital in Quito.

Summer 2017 Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Recipients 

Audrey O'Connell, of Downers Grove, Illinois, studies graphic design with a minor in Spanish at Loyola University New Orleans. Her goals for her time in Ecuador were to gain a better understanding of different cultures and improve her Spanish speaking abilities. While studying at Loyola University New Orleans, Audrey is project leader for Loyola's community service club. After she graduates she hopes to do something in the graphic design field that supports travel and volunteer work. 


Summer 2016 Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Recipients 

Molly Finnelly, of Lemont, Illinois, is a social work major at Illinois State University. She volunteered at Fundacion A.B.C. senior center in Quito, Ecuador, utilizing her skills with local residents in need of a meal and socialization. 

Click here to read a news article published about her Ecuador experience! 




Mackenzie Hedge, of Big Lake, Minnesota, is a nursing and Spanish major at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She volunteered at Fundacion Medica Mosquera, a health center in the old town of Quito that provides assistance to people with limited financial resources. 


Summer 2015 Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Recipients 

Rita Hess is a Spanish Linguistics and Pedagogy master’s candidate at Illinois State University (ISU). She served 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. 

Hess completed a week of advanced Spanish lessons in Quito before spending two weeks volunteering at a girl’s orphanage in Cuenca. She aided 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.   

Alex Elizarraga also took one week of advanced Spanish lessons before volunteering for three weeks at a summer camp for school-aged children.

Elizarraga graduated from Concordia College with a BA in Psychology and Spanish in 2015. On campus, he served as president for the Concordia Swim Club and debate captain for the Concordia Forensics team. In his free time, Elizarraga volunteered as an elementary Spanish teacher for youth. During college he was 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.


Summer 2014 Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Recipient

Danielle Slowik was a student attending Valparaiso University working to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Theology, Global Service and Humanities (with a minor in TESOL) when she received our 2014 scholarship. She has hopes of teaching English abroad and serving overseas with a national service program after graduation. In 2014, Danielle participated in Spirit's Volunteer Abroad Program and traveled to Quito, Ecuador to volunteer at a Senior Center, Abuelitos de Calle. The following year, Slowik interned for Spirit and advised our 2015 scholarship recepients prior to their departure for Ecuador.