Friday, January 26, 2018

Kirsti Buckendorf

Hands4Hope staff interviewed Kirsti about her experience with Hands4Hope, here's what she had to say...

What were the reasons you joined Hands4Hope?
I joined Hands4Hope in middle school because my older sister was a volunteer. It sounds terrible, but I was kind of “forced” into it. However, it wasn’t that I did not enjoy or want to help others, but the events like the homeless outreach were way out of my comfort zone.  Later, the organization’s vice president position opened up and Jennifer Bassett apparently saw something in me. Initially, I did not think that I wanted to take on such a responsibility, but after some convincing from my parents, I hesitantly took the position.

Through my experiences with Hands4Hope, I can show other youth that sometimes a person might not know what they want or what is best for them. All it took was the guidance of my parents and another individual (Jennifer Bassett) for me to acknowledge my strengths and to show me what I am capable of accomplishing. They deserve the credit for my achievements during my time with Hands4Hope.

What was your impression of Hands4Hope after volunteering for a couple of events?
I have been with H4H almost since it was founded. Back then, there were only a few youth volunteers and therefore only a few events. However, as our volunteer base grew, so did the number of events offered. I definitely had my favorites (homeless outreach and Creekview senior outreach). I liked the flexibility and actually seeing the people I helped. I appreciate this even more now after being involved in other non-profit organizations. My comfort zone was absolutely broadened, and I became more comfortable as I built relationships with the individuals we were serving, as well as my fellow volunteers. Coming from a big high school, Hands4Hope allowed me to make friends with people who shared my goals and values. I remain in contact with some of these people over 5 years later.

What made you want to do more with the organization?
Originally, I did not try and establish new events and stuck with volunteering for the pre-established events. I volunteered at these events and worked on the leadership team. It wasn’t until I felt like I had the leadership qualities and support of my peers necessary to reach out and determine how we could further serve the needs of our community. Jennifer Bassett was a huge part of my growth. She was the first adult, outside of my family and coaches, to have faith in me. I believe this support from adults (other Hands4Hope adult mentors and employees) is huge for building confidence in youth and a major reason why Hands4Hope is so successful.
I was the captain of my soccer, competitive volleyball, and lacrosse teams elementary school through high school. Yet, I didn’t know then what it actually meant to be a leader. I believe volunteering with Hands4Hope expanded my comfort zone and helped me build social skills with people I would not have normally had a chance to interact with in El Dorado Hills. It showed me that I was part of the minority lucky enough to have a well supported life, both emotionally and financially, and with this position comes the responsibility to help others to the best of my ability.

What part of Hands4Hope do you remember the most?
When I founded the Creekview Senior Outreach I was proud that I identified a need in our community. We had never had an event to solely benefit the underserved elderly. These particular individuals run out of money before the end of the month and end up unable to buy food. Establishing the outreach was rewarding in itself, but the most memorable part was a woman I met there. Unlike other residents, she had not attended a single event at Creekview prior to our monthly dinners. Over time we developed a special relationship, and she now attends our dinner regularly. Once I went to college, she made me headbands, wrote me a card, and asks the H4H volunteers about me specifically. Knowing I could make that much of an impression on a stranger really solidified the idea that I need to keep pushing myself to impact others in a positive way. I look forward to coming home during breaks and volunteering, knowing I will be greeted with her smile and a big hug.
There are many programs here in San Jose to help the less fortunate whether it is getting kids to have fun exercising, feeding the homeless in San Francisco, or picking trash up at the beach. However, none of these outreach programs come close to having the same impact on me as Hands4Hope did and still does. I am so thankful for my experiences with Hands4Hope and how huge of a part it played in my development during my high school years. This organization helped me to utilize and further develop my strengths to better work with others and serve those in need.

There are no limits on the positive impact H4H can have on youth especially as they are trying to find out where they fit in and if they are heard and respected by others in the community. I have so much adoration for this organization, and I can honestly say I have not found another one like it. I know that everyone feels the same way when I say that after seeing what H4H is about, it is impossible not to feel great and want to be involved even more.
I will continue to let everyone know how passionately I feel about this organization, so even if people don’t personally volunteer, they will be able to appreciate the huge difference Hands4Hope is making in the community and in the lives of the youth volunteers.

From there, I volunteered each month, attended officers’ meetings, and discovered that the things we youth were doing actually made a difference in our community. It was so powerful to see the change and to realize that I had the power to make a difference, even at a young age when others did not take me seriously. I believe this was the thing that sparked the fire in my heart to give myself over to this organization. After being vice president, I became president, the youngest member on the board of directors, started a Hands4Hope Club at my high school, a summer intern, and now I continue to volunteer as an adult lead when I am home from college. I will forever be grateful for the chance Hands4Hope took on me.   
Great things come from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, and good decisions are not always easy ones. It is difficult for me to be honest about my feelings about the homeless outreaches because it sounds like I didn’t have compassion.  However, I realized I was uncomfortable because it was new and I had limited experience to this kind of suffering. I was uncomfortable because I could feel their pain and suffering and knew I couldn't do much to stop it.  I guess it is just easier for people to victimize them and say they are in the situation because they made mistakes, but in reality I think people just tell themselves that so they don't feel guilty for not extending a helping hand.
I couldn’t stop homelessness, but I could give a helping hand.  Hands4Hope, gave me that opportunity.

How have these opportunities and skills helped you in college?  In life?
My parents saw an increase in my level of compassion and self-confidence throughout my journey. I am more outspoken; standing up for others taught me how to stand up for myself, whether it be with peers or to professors. In college, I use these skills to benefit my sorority whose philanthropy is Women’s Heart Health, as well as in my position as the president of the Pre-Health Club. I also used my varied experiences from my time as a volunteer with Hands4Hope to obtain over a dozen scholarships to help pay for my higher education and to become a member of the Alpha Sigma Nu, the Honor Society of Jesuit Institutions, which recognizes those who distinguish themselves in scholarship, loyalty, and service. I know what I learned will continue to not only benefit me but also those I will continue to serve as a medical professional.

Is there anything else you want to add about your experience with Hands4Hope?  
I am so fortunate that when I come home for my breaks I am allowed to participate as a fingerprinted adult lead and share with the younger volunteers what makes H4H so special. It warms my heart to see the clubs flourishing at multiple schools and impacting even more people than when I was in a leadership position with the organization. To know that I made a difference in the community in just a few years provided me with greater confidence and leadership skills that I was able to bring to my university, my sorority, and use as the president of the Pre-Health Club at my university.

I can’t imagine growing up without Hands4Hope adult leads acting as positive mentors or without an organization that cares enough to let the youth be so actively involved in exploring the needs of those in the community and identifying which causes they should act on. It is astounding to see how many youth are involved now and how their leadership and social skills have developed since when I left the year before. For example, I saw a shy but very capable young woman take over as president at one of the H4H school clubs, and when I came back the following year, I was amazed by how well she assumed responsibility and came out of her shell. I know it is the amazing adult leads, supportive H4H peer volunteers, and unique organization that is responsible for the positive change.

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