White Bear is filled with caring community members who give back and help in any way they can, and we found a few young people who went above and beyond the call of duty. These world travelers helped in communities less fortunate than our own, and learned a lot in the process.
Juliette Schroeder grew up with parents committed to volunteer work. “Every other weekend we’d be cleaning or planting or helping at some function,” she says. And it became part of who she was.
In ninth grade, she joined the student council, she says, which allowed her to spend even more time volunteering with programs like Special Olympics. Then she decided to take it a step further, and through the White Bear Lake Rotary Club, arranged a trip to Benoni, South Africa, where, after getting donations from family and friends, Schroeder spent her junior year of high school.
While there, she helped put in water tanks in villages, and helped people manage their money and accounts. “We visited schools and played with the children and entertained them,” she says. They don’t see people outside their villages.” She also participated in several charitable initiatives, like the Toms Shoes shoe drive.
Now a senior at White Bear Lake Area High School, Schroeder has definitely grown from the experiences. “I have a greater understanding of the world, and how the rest of the world works,” she says.
She was invited to the Global Young Leader Conference in Washington, D.C., last summer, and took part in a mock U.N. Security Council meeting. From there they went to New York and visited embassies—she visited the Japanese embassy, and then took part in a mock Global Summit. “It was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot about leadership and how to stand back from a situation and still get things done,” she says. “Because a lot of people with a lot of opinions means a lot of talk.”
While she learned a lot in the last year and plans on working in international relations in the future, it all comes back to one thing: “I like the feeling I get when I help people,” she says. “It’s a great feeling.”
Laurie Tangren, a teacher at Centennial Middle School, and her sons, Drew and Alex, found their way to Kenya through H2O for Life. The nonprofit, started by another teacher, Patty Hall, began when Hall was traveling to Africa with other charities and noticed the need for clean water.
“That was really the big need, especially because the girls wouldn’t go to school because they were collecting water,” Laurie Tangren says. After Hall raised money at her own school to increase the sandy dams, a water filtration system in Africa, Centennial Middle decided to join the cause. The middle school adopted a school in Kenya called Kwamalelu, and raised $10,000 through in-school contests, T-shirt sales and events like a “Walk for Water,” to put in a new school bathroom, new roof and cistern to catch rainwater. The Tangrens decided they wanted to see what they helped create, so they saved up money to make the trip as a family and hopped on a plane.
They stayed in Kathungu village where their money helped with sanitation and water resources, and were welcomed with open arms. Drew and Alex, at the time in sixth and third grade, respectively, played soccer with the other kids in the village, and even taught them how to play baseball.
“Every day the elders would come to the house and talk to us,” Laurie says, “to show us what they were doing in the village.”
In a place where showering means tossing a bucket of water over your head, Alex, now in 10th grade at the high school, says the trip made him extremely grateful. “I can just go in one room over and there’s water,” he says. “They have to walk for miles.”
Drew, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, recalls children running up to the car in the village, asking for change. “I always think of that, and how fortunate we really are that we don’t have to beg,” he says. “We just kind of have everything.” Planning on a major in architecture, the trip has influenced him to consider focusing on eco-friendly, sustainable architecture.
The family is still involved with H20 for Life today, and over the past eight years, has helped put in nine wells all over the world, mostly in Africa. And, Laurie says, it made a positive impact on her family. “I really feel that we came back changed.”