Sanjuana Zavala is being honored as a Champion of Change for her Kiwanis International service.
Since I was little, my parents instilled in me the desire to help others, pursue my passion and have the courage to follow my dreams. My parents, both from Mexico, have no education here in the United States and know very little English. I learned from my mother that love and helping others has no language, racial or social-economic barriers. When I was growing up, my mom would create five to six Thanksgiving baskets with all the ingredients needed to make a Thanksgiving meal. We would then take the baskets to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a 10-minute drive from our home, and give them to families in need. She saved up money from her paychecks to give back. She had no time to go and volunteer, but she loved Thanksgiving and wanted everyone to have a Thanksgiving meal.
I was raised, educated and still live in the low-income community of Southmost in Brownsville, Texas, but this hasn't limited my ability to serve. It is because of this vibrant, Hispanic-rich community and my supporting family that I devote part of my day to service. My commitment and passion for service has led me to meet extraordinary individuals who I remember every single day as I keep on serving my community. It is nothing but an honor to be a White House Champion of Change.
It was not until I joined Circle K International that my passion for service was lit. Before Kiwanis, I attended city-wide service projects but had no organization to affiliate myself with. I was just a high school student helping out on a Saturday morning. When I met CKI members at my freshmen orientation, I soon felt like I was a part of something. It was not until I became a club officer that I realized just how big the CKI organization and the Kiwanis family are. After attending my first district convention, I felt invincible. I had finally met a group of individuals who felt the same way about service. Those individuals became many of my best friends.
For the past year, in conjunction with Keep Brownsville Beautiful and UT-Brownsville CKI Club, the Crayon Recycling Project has flourished to new heights. More than 100 hours were served by CKI members and fellow high school volunteers for the CRP. These long hours of service created new and ready-to-use crayons that were molded into stars, soccer balls, planets, letters of the alphabet and many more fun shapes! What I loved most about the CRP was seeing the faces of kindergarten children when I told them the impact they made when they donated their old and broken crayons to be recycled. After helping out on this project, these little ones wanted to do more; they wanted to reach out and help. That’s when many of them, for the first time, heard the words community service and serving others.
That’s what keeps me serving every day, and that’s what energizes me to wake up early Saturday morning for service projects—the impact of change. Nothing transcends faster than one’s passion. I hope by sharing my passion for service with the children and other people I meet, I get to change their perception about community service. I plan to stay in the Kiwanis family after graduation and serve as a Kiwanian. I would like to become an advisor to a CKI Club or even a Key Club. I can’t wait for what the future holds for me!
Sanjuana Zavala is a first-generation college student at the University of Texas- Brownsville, and supporter of The Eliminate Project, a partnership between Kiwanis International and UNICEF to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus from the face of the Earth