Walking around the halls of Stanbridge College, you may hear a voice stand out among the crowd:
“Have you signed up for this service event? Or are you thinking about it? Oh I really think you should join ME!”
That is the voice of full-time nursing student, Vanessa Gonzalez-Arroyo encouraging her fellow classmates to sign up for the latest community service event. Since her start in the Diploma in Vocational Nurse program in the fall of 2012, Vanessa has participated in nearly every community service event hosted by Stanbridge College REACH – Beyond the Classroom™. From blood donations to raising funds for Alzheimer’s research to serving food and wrapping gifts for the homeless, Vanessa consistently shows her passion for giving back to those in need.
“I’ve been there to push my cohort to be part of what I feel is an amazing movement of compassion our school spreads,” stated the full-time nursing student.
But her love of community service began before she started her education at Stanbridge College. While she was in middle and high school, Vanessa’s family struggled with making ends meet.
“Growing up my family wasn’t as fortunate as I am now. There were times when my four brothers and I didn’t have much to eat or many toys to play with.”
While in middle school, Vanessa belonged to a small after school program hosted by a non-profit organization called The Ken Do Kids. The project helped local children and incorporated community service projects throughout the year. But it was the help her family found from her community in Tustin that inspired her to continue her service.
“I will never forget what the Peppertree community in Tustin did for my family. They knew me because I was part of the Ken Do Kids, and they knew what my family was going through. During the holidays they gave us a Christmas tree, a turkey and toys for my little brothers. The look on my little brothers’ face was the same look I saw in the kid’s we saw when serving food at this past Christmas dinner for the homeless. For that reason and many others I know I will forever give back as much as I possibly can for the rest of my life.”
In high school, Vanessa’s family was hit with another challenge. Her younger brother was diagnosed with Leukemia and even though she was juggling to complete her senior year and working to help support her family, Vanessa found a way to support him. In just two years, she raised over $6,200 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“As an adult with work and school it makes it a lot harder to find time to participate and give time the way I use to. But when your heart wants to help, some how you find the time! I meet an amazing person that was participating in a marathon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and invited me to join her. That was in 2010, by the beginning of 2011 I had learned a lot about the Team in Training. I learned how to fundraise in ways that I never thought I could.”
While Vanessa was involved with in Team in Training, a non-profit organization that trains runners, walkers, triathletes, cyclists and hikers to support cancer research, she participated in two events: a marathon in San Diego and a hike in Yosemite where she raised $2,743 with over 40 donations and another $3,500 with 19 donations.
Supporting her family through her brother’s illness was also Vanessa’s inspiration for becoming a nurse. In November of 2012, Vanessa started at Stanbridge College and was eager to participate in REACH – Beyond the Classroom™ community service events.
“Before attending Stanbridge College, I had heard from friends of all the wonderful events it has hosted and been part of. One of them being helping the less fortunate. Being part of last year’s Christmas gift wrapping for the homeless event followed by serving the dinner to the less fortunate was almost like a dream for me. Something I had wanted to be a part of for years.”
Every month, Vanessa has volunteered with REACH at the Lighthouse Ministries in Costa Mesa, distributing groceries with the Free Pantry Organization and serving a warm meal to over 250 homeless people.
“The feeling you get from preparing and helping serve the dinner is just amazing, it gave me such a great feeling of gratitude for everything I’ve overcome and where I now stand in life.”
While she continues to encourage her fellow classmates to volunteer, donate and find causes to help with, Vanessa believes newcomers will instantly be hooked.
“The only advice I have for someone that has never volunteered is: try it once! I promise you the feeling you get from helping out is like no other feeling you’ll ever have.”
To learn more about Stanbridge College REACH community service events, please visit www.stanbridge.edu/reach.
Team in Training has trained over a half a million runners, walkers, triathletes, cyclists and hikers and raised over $1.2 billion to fund lifesaving cancer research therapies. For more information about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Team in Training, please visit http://www.teamintraining.org/.