Teacher sparks community service work

Published January 2012 Voice

For Laura Oleksiak, community service and teaching go hand in hand.      

The high school English teacher in the Upper Merion Area School District began volunteer work with the American Red Cross as a high school student, and worked with a group of volunteers to create an organization called Spark the Wave in 2004. Spark the Wave offers after-school and weekend seminars, as well as week-long summer programs that provide an opportunity for middle and high school students to develop their skills in effective communication, leadership development, service learning, project planning, and diversity awareness.

Community service gave Oleksiak experience working with children and in classrooms, which she credits as part of what inspired her to pursue a teaching career.

“Personally, volunteering has inspired me to go into teaching and to stay in teaching,” said Oleksiak. “Volunteering helps you to relate to different people and understand that people come from all walks of life.”

Oleksiak worked with Spark the Wave to help provide programs and services to students in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. areas, continuing to work with the group as she started her teaching career. In 2009, Spark the Wave launched its first international program with a day camp in Moldova, a former state of the Soviet Union and one of the poorest countries in Europe.

This summer, Oleksiak again traveled to Moldova to help with a week-long residential camp in the Republic of Moldova. The camp was created with the goal of getting young people more involved with community service.

Oleksiak and other Spark the Wave volunteers organized classes on skill building, service learning, and diversity awareness, with a focus on teaching the delegates (campers) to develop their own community service initiatives.

“The kids in Moldova were very engaged, maybe even more so than you see at home sometimes,” said Oleksiak. “The program was unique for them and their country, and the kids were intrigued to meet American teachers.”

The group from Spark the Wave also spent time visiting a local orphanage, learning from them and repainting their playground.

During the week, she worked with a group of young people organizing a food drive for homeless people in the area.

“It was a really great experience personally, and the kids got a lot out of it,” Oleksiak said. “They don’t get many chances to do volunteer work there, because most of the focus is based on surviving. It’s exciting that some of them have already started their next projects.”

Oleksiak now serves as the program director for the Moldova program. Learn more about the work of Spark the Wave at www.sparkthewave.org.  




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