Trip of a lifetime

Empowering students through summer travel experiences

Ebony Zapanta

My name is Ebony Zapata, I’m a 16 year-old junior and I was accepted to be a part of
Project California 2017. When I found out that I was going to spend most of my summer in
California, I realized how my life was about to take an incredible and unusual turn. I was so
excited to meet people of different cultures, backgrounds, and hometowns. I was also quite
nervous because I have never been a people person and it was going to be a challenge to make
friends. However, when I went on the trip, every expectation that I had about the people, the
activities, and the community service completely transformed.
When I arrived at California, I was the only Hispanic person out of all the students that
had attended, so you can expect that I felt like an outsider. I didn’t talk to anyone the first day
and I remained with my eyes stapled to my phone the whole time. I wasn’t very friendly and I
wasn’t planning on changing that because I had always been more of an independent girl who
likes to be alone. I thought that was going to be my plan for the whole summer until Jagger
started talking to me. Jagger was this awesome, funny and incredibly sweet guy that invited me
to talk to him and his friends. After I told them I was from Nicaragua and what my name was,
they began to think that I was incredibly cool. I honestly didn’t talk to them as much in the first
few days but everything changed when I won a game that our Director had made us play to get to
know everyone better. I won in the category of “Who’s the Best Dancer of the Group” by belting
out to a salsa number that I was sure nobody else knew how to dance to. After that everybody
started talking to me and asking me if I could teach them how to dance and it honestly made me
feel important. I didn’t try to make friends, everyone just started trying to be friends with me and
I know how narcissistic that sounds but it’s 100% true. At the end of the trip I had a squad, and
they were honestly a great addition to the incredible summer that I had. By the middle of the trip
I had gotten this reputation that I was “good at everything” just because I was the best girl soccer

Ebony Zapata Project California 2017August 15, 2017
player of the group, I could ice skate and roller skate, I could dance, I could drive, and I could
sing. It was amazing to have a reputation that made me one of the coolest girls in the group
because it invited people to talk to me and to find out if the rumors of my awesomeness were
true.
This trip was able to turn this summer into the best summer of my life. My favorite parts
were when we went to Six Flags, when I was at community service, when I went surfing,
kayaking, and snorkeling. Honestly, I loved every single part of this trip but those were my
ultimate favorite parts because of how they made me feel. The day at Six Flags was the best day
of my life. I went on 8 rides that I never thought I would have the guts to ride. In every single
one of them I felt like my life flashed before my eyes and that felt incredible. The best part was
that my friend, Jagger, had a fast pass so we skipped every line with him and we went straight to
the ride we wanted to go in. We screamed our lungs out in the crazy rides and we always came
out of the rides dying of laughter because of the excitement that we were feeling. It was so
amazing how much an amusement park could make you feel do great while making you feel so
scared. I loved every single part of it and I don’t regret choosing the friends that I chose to go on
the rides with me because they enjoyed it just as much as I did.
When I was working at Unity Shoppe, I learned what “putting the needs of others ahead
of your own” actually meant. I was able to see how people were so embarrassed when they asked
for help and food, and I was able to see the look of struggle on their faces while they did that. I
was a store helper so I told customers what they could take and the quantity of things that they
could take. It was not a hard job but just by greeting the customers with a smile and telling them
that they could take anything they want, I already felt like I was making a difference. The
Shoppe’s founder, Barbara, was the sweetest lady I have ever met. She told us stories about how

Ebony Zapata Project California 2017August 15, 2017
the store rose up to what it is now and how much it took to turn the store into what it is now.
What I loved about her was that she always gave us advice and told us what would be best for us
to do in the future. I thought her intentions were really considerate and caring for somebody who
had only made our acquaintance. I miss working there and helping the customers, it was honestly
the best part of my trip. When I went surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling I realized how much fun
my life was missing. I got to stand up multiple times on a surfboard, I got to go in the middle of
the ocean on a little boat with no prior knowledge of how to swim, and I got to be centimeters
away from fish when I went snorkeling in the waters near Catalina islands. The experience was
amazing and it honestly made me turn into a girl who loves anything that has to do with sea.
When it was the last day of the trip, I witnessed how every single one of the campers I
was with was crying because they were saying goodbye to their friends. However, I didn’t cry
about my friends, I cried because I had to say goodbye to the amazing counselors that we had.
They were so fun and so incredible to be around that when I hugged one to say goodbye I started
crying out of nowhere because I knew I was not going to be able to hang out with her again. I
really didn’t want to leave the fantasy of California for the reality of New York. I loved it there
and I didn’t want to leave because I knew that there was nothing to look forward to after this.
However, I was eternally grateful for what I had learned from this trip. I have learned to try new
things and be friendlier to people because you never know how much of an amazing effect they
can have on your life. I have learned that helping people doesn’t have an exact definition because
there is not just one way that you can provide assistance to someone who’s in need. Helping
people is not about forgetting your needs and only worrying about someone else’s, it’s about
minimizing the importance of your needs because the needs of someone else require more
attention. The up-close of people struggling has made me appreciate the things that I have in life

Ebony Zapata Project California 2017August 15, 2017
and the things that I’m going to obtain in the future. I have learned to be a better person and to
always find a way that I can contribute to society. This was the best summer of my life because I
released a side of me that seemed nonexistent in the past and I have made it the new me. I can
honestly say that the new me is the best me and it’s all thanks to Trip of a Lifetime.

  • testimonialImg

    "I may be multiracial and I may be living in the ghetto but what I am going to do with my life is going to be historical."



    "I may be multiracial and I may be living in the ghetto but what I am going to do with my life is going to be historical."


    Alphonso

  • testimonialImg
    “This trip made me realize that there’s more to the world than the South Bronx.”
    “This trip made me realize that there’s more to the world than the South Bronx.”

    Selina

  • testimonialImg

    "I am really and forever will be thankful to Trip of a Lifetime for giving me such an exceptional experience this summer that will be forever remembered."

    "I am really and forever will be thankful to Trip of a Lifetime for giving me such an exceptional experience this summer that will be forever remembered."

    Jennifer

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