Naomi's Essay:

From a young age I had hopes of becoming someone important, someone who made a difference in others' lives and contributed to their well-being. I wanted to be someone that left an impact on many and was remembered by most. Now I've learned that the world is bigger than what I originally thought and it contains so many cultures and ethnicities throughout the many nations. I learned that making a difference in a person's life could result in something as little as making them smile or showing a person that they matter. We all come from so many backgrounds. We all have been raised in various ways. Those distinctions don't have to keep people apart.

Rotary has made such an impact in my life. I wouldn't be so culturally aware and accepting without it. Rotary is an organization that I am grateful to because it helped me discover who I am as an individual. Not only did I discover who I am now, but also who I could become and what I'm capable of doing in my lifetime. Rotary has shown me that my dreams of helping others could come true.

I think the experiences a person goes through in a lifetime are what make them unique. Different obstacles and dilemmas help shape and mold a person into something unique. One thing that has helped shape who I am is growing up without my parents. I lost my mother to Breast Cancer at the age often and my father has never been in the picture. My siblings and I have lived with our great grandparents since our mother's passing. I grew up feeling like God was punishing us for some mistake. We are constantly worrying about finances, especially towards college, because it is a strain on our great grandparents to support us all. I was angry with everyone and I felt like I deserved to be happy like anyone else. For years I carried that anger on my shoulders and blamed everyone for it.

Around eighth grade, something changed. My siblings and I had always been involved in the Boys and Girls Club and they offered a weekend retreat to RYLA. I had no idea what RYLA was nor Rotary itself. My older brother and sister went and from then on I knew it had to be something amazing. They talked about it like it was the best weekend of their lives and I wanted to be a part of it. The next year I realized what all the excitement was about. The leadership aspects and team building exercises amazed me. If that wasn't enough, learning about Rotary Youth Exchange was. I had no idea living and studying a year abroad in another country was even possible. I fell in love with the idea and I couldn't resist becoming a part of it. After a second year at RYLA I was determined to make my dream reality.

Making the decision to become involved with Rotary Youth Exchange was the best decision of my life. Becoming a part of an organization that cared so much about people from all over made me passionate about the world and my surroundings. Meeting people from different cultures helped broaden my views of every aspect of life. I found a family in Rotary and that was the biggest accomplishment of my outbound year. I felt like I made connections with people that could love me for who I was and who I wanted to be. Going to Brazil showed me that life could be whatever I made it and that no matter where you go in life, people would be willing to care for and love you if you give them that opportunity. Rotary Youth Exchange changed me inside and out. I finally was able to appreciate life and give it a chance.

Rotary brought peace to my life through its services. I couldn't be the outgoing and culturally in-depth person I am today without Rotary. It helped me discover that life isn't always about pain and struggling, but that it could be something more. The love that I feel for this organization locally and internationally spills over with gratitude, because I don't know where I would be or what I would've become if I was not involved with Rotary. It brought a light to my eyes and opened doors in my future. My dreams of helping others begin and end with Rotary. I've been given such peace and love in my life from this organization and now I'm ready to give back, because everyone should be given the opportunity to explore life to the fullest and be happy.