Two weeks in Project California meant a year’s worth of high school drama, two months of summer vacation fun and a lifetime of experiences all wrapped into a short time. I first heard of this opportunity for Trip of a Lifetime when my friend Harleigh raved about her experience in California. I thought of it as a complete hoax but Harleigh insisted I apply for it so I did, not believing this trip would be possible. Months later, while I was occupied with my high school life I got an email saying that I got accepted for a scholarship for Trip of a Lifetime. I was ecstatic about the news but didn’t really understand what that meant until the day of the trip when my car pulled into JFK airport.
When I finally made it to California I realized a couple of things: 1) Miley Cyrus had lied. When we got out the L.A. airport and l looked to the right I did not see the hollywood sign (from “Party in the U.S.A” by Miley Cyrus) and 2) California was beautiful and that I was completely excited for what was to come. My favorite destination was Goleta Beach. When we arrived in Santa Barbara Goleta Beach was our first destination. I was ready to shed a layer and take a dip in the California water; but unfortunately it was too cold, too late in the day and the tide was too high to even swim safely. Instead I bonded over volleyball with people whom I had met only a few hours earlier. It was a game where no one knew how to play correctly and no one actually won but everyone had fun. Throughout the trip we made several visits back to Goleta Beach. One day in my afternoon activity during the Santa Barbara days, we went to the beach to do some kayaking. At first I was resistant, but then I thought to myself in 40 years, do I want to look back and say I should’ve tried that? My mental answer was no. I couldn't be the person that didn’t try anything new so I put the vest and helmet on, grabbed a paddle and told Jordan, a boy that was going to paddle alone, that I would go in the kayak with him. As I paddled frighteningly, I talked to Jordan about how frightened I was to be away from the shore where I can swim and stand. But soon I realized I’d have to face my fears because our kayak was very far from shore. In fact we couldn’t even see the shore after five minutes of paddling. As we caught up with the rest of the group I heard the kayaking director say that we were going even farther out, and my heart dropped. “Can’t we go back to shore?” I whined. But the fun in kayaking had just begun because our kayak had to pass a rocky shore that was going to challenge our newfound paddling abilities. What made it even more difficult was that my kayaking partner, Jordan, had given up and it was up to me to bring us back to shore. We finally made it to the tidal break, which was the ultimate test of our virgin kayaking experience. We failed it; our kayak flipped over the first large wave that went over us. Regardless of that I was happy that I fell in the water, went way past the shore and tried a new activity that I had never done before.
My second day of the trip I began volunteering at a place called Unity Shoppe. I assumed that volunteering would be something that would be the least exciting but the most heart warming experience of my day. I wasn’t completely wrong. My experience at Unity Shoppe was the most heart warming experience I’ve ever had. I learned that Unity Shoppe was a store that helped families having a financial difficulty by providing them choices of clothing, food, household objects and even toys. Working in this environment made me appreciate my family for working so hard to provide for me. Unity Shoppe was proof that a unique idea could actually work and change the lives of people for the better. The simplistic idea of Unity Shoppe was to provide families necessities when they are in need, but do it in a way that helps these families keep their dignity. From that simple principle came the idea of a false market where families in need shop for what they want for their family in the Unity Shoppe. The only catch: no money is transacted, trhereby keeping the dignity of the people while still helping them. It was so different than any other service that I had heard of. The Unity Shoppe idea came opened my eyes to not keeping good ideas to myself and that anything is possible. I learned that I can do the same thing with any idea and I’d like to use my ideas to better help students in my community back home. For example, I’d like to have a place in my community in Jacksonville, Florida that teens can use as a recreational center. I feel that my neighborhood in Jacksonville lacks centers that can keep teens from reaping mayhem on the towns people. I think that a recreational center could fill the need of teens to study, have fun and learn about opportunities in their own community. I think that a place like this could reduce the crime level in Jacksonville and bring more of a community feel to my neighborhood.
My Project California trip was truly a Trip of a Lifetime. I learned so much about myself. For example, I learned that I always want to be the person that tries new things and is able to make decisions for herself. I realized this when we had two options for our night activity: going to a recreational center and going to see the movie “22 Jump Street”. I had previously seen the movie “22 Jump Street” and wasn't interested in enduring another episode of that. So I was off to the recreational center, while everyone that I was associated with went to the movies. One of the trip counselors came and asked me why I went to the recreational center instead of going to the movies and I said because I’d rather do something that’s fun and what I like and want to do rather than follow my friends and do something that I don’t want to do. She conversed with me about how she thought I was an admirable person to follow. I continued to talk with her that evening about my future plans of moving to New York to become a teacher in inner city schools and a college professor in Literature. I told her of how earlier in the year I was involved in a college program where I finished my high school credits in two years and how I spent my eleventh and twelfth grade years getting my credits to get an Associate’s degree. I expanded on how my year went and how I had got a D in math that led to my removal from the college program. Although I got removed from the program, I was offered an opportunity to graduate. That day, when I didn’t go to the movies, I became good friends with two new girls on the trip, went to a spa jacuzzi for the first time, rollerbladed and had more fun than I would've had sitting in a movie theatre.
My Project California trip was truly a Trip of a Lifetime. I learned so much about myself and about helping others. I made connections for a lifetime, made new friends and learned something new about myself. The entire trip filled me with a new perspective on the world and on people as well.