"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others," - Mahatma Gandhi.
Southwestern Central School 2009 graduate Jenna Jablonski's outstanding dedication to the service of others serves as a testament to Gandhi's wise words.
Jablonski, who will soon be starting her senior year at Ithaca College, has had the opportunity to travel across the globe to several countries - some as a result of receiving the title of Park Scholar from the communications school. Park Scholars, students who exhibit a commitment to academic excellence, communications and service to others, receive a full scholarship.
Jenna Jablonski holding a child at an orphanage in Mbale, Uganda.
"One of the tenets is service, and that's partially why I am so involved in service and volunteering," said Jablonski. "That aspect of the program has definitely shaped my college experience."
Getting the scholarship was the dream college experience that Jablonski desired, but it was a competitive application process, and she was unsure of whether she would get it.
"As a finalist I had to interview during my senior year of high school at Ithaca College, and it was probably the scariest weekend of my life, but also really fun," said Jablonski "So, I feel really grateful to be part of the program because it was a dream of mine."
That dream has led Jablonski to have some truly amazing adventures. She has traveled internationally many times for service projects such as: four mission trips to Honduras with St. Timothy Lutheran Church; a summer intensive Spanish language service trip to Guatemala through JCC; and a semester abroad in Bolivia with the study abroad program called SIT.
In Bolivia Jablonski authored and illustrated a children's book that was published as a fundraiser for a "Kids Books for Bolivia." It is available in Spanish, Kichwa and English. The idea was to promote literacy and imagination as a way of dealing with cultural change, she said. The books are for sale to benefit two nonprofits in Bolivia. Those interested in purchasing the book should email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the book visit kidsbooksbolivia.org/books/unplugged.
"While volunteering at a library in Bolivia the kids really inspired me," said Jablonski. "They were from a tiny village, but they were so imaginative and playful that I decided to write a book about them. It's a library adventure in which the kids go to places all over Bolivia to discover the cultural gems of their country that they probably won't ever get to see because they may be in that village their whole lives."
Jablonski has also had some opportunities in the states as well. She completed an semester-long internship in Washington, D.C. with Meridian International, and has done additional service projects in New Orleans.
"Working with Meridian International was a great taste of what it would be like to be involved in an international nonprofit in D.C., which I think is what I want to do after college," said Jablonski.
However, even though Jablonski has spent a great amount of time experiencing what the world has to offer on a global scale, she still hasn't found what she's looking for.
"My goal right now is to discover what I want to do and like to do. I wish I had an ultimate end goal, but I think that will come with whatever experience I gain," Jablonski said. "It's one of the toughest questions for me to answer because I can picture the immediate steps, but I'm not sure exactly what that will lead to, and I'm okay with that. I'm excited for the adventure and the element of surprise. But I guess I'm trying to find what I care about the most, and what I can help with the most."
Her service trips have also led to some frustration because the issues that the countries she has visited face, require very complex solutions.
"I went in hoping that there would be one big solution, but there's really not," she said. "It's been frustrating, but it has also compelled me to move forward and learn more about how I could help."
This summer marked Jablonski's final adventure before graduating. She spent the summer in Uganda with a group called "Operations Crossroads."
"Ithaca College sends a few people there every year," said Jablonski. "There we lived in communities where there wasn't any water security, and they didn't even have a source - they had to hike miles very early in the morning then stand in a line to get it. So, we had to teach them about purification by boiling, but they didn't even have firewood. That made me toss all expectations aside because I was actually experiencing the challenges they faced in daily life and we can't really imagine them here. It makes you appreciate everything here, and also that I have to go and see what's going on to really understand it."
But, one reason Jablonski enjoys service projects so much is because she's found that it's a great way to get to know a community. She was able to participate in a program during her freshman year at Ithaca College that opened the door to service opportunities in the area.
"I've gotten to know Ithaca in new ways through volunteering, and that's also my approach in volunteering abroad," said Jablonski "I think it is the best way to get to know a culture. It lets you give-and-take from it in a way that you get to know the people so that you can share a lot of values through that experience. "
Another reason she enjoys serving, and why she would recommend it to others, is that she's found it to be very rewarding.
"It's great for personal fulfillment, and it's a great way to form relationships with others," said Jablonski. "I think that some people don't expect volunteering to be a fun thing - but it really is a fun way to connect with people. You have to dare to leave your comfort zone. That's one of the best ways to grow - to do things that are a little bit out there for you. That way you can discover new interests and capabilities. And, because there is something for everyone. There are so many different ways to serve your community. Everyone can find something that is fun, interesting and relevant to them."
Jablonski will be spending the remainder of her college career in Ithaca. She will graduate with a bachelor's in integrated marketing communications and a minor in Spanish.
"I'm really excited because I haven't spent a whole year in Ithaca in a long time - and I adore it," she said. "As much as I love being in D.C. or being in other countries, part of my heart is in Ithaca."