I was in boy scouts and was required to volunteer throughout grade school. I enjoyed being around my friends, but I didn’t understand why I was volunteering. My parents volunteered in numerous capacities and tried to impress upon me the importance of giving back. I rarely volunteered with opportunities that matched my passions, nor did I actively search for them. Even though volunteering was important to my family, it wasn’t a high priority for me at the time.
My parents were talking in our kitchen nook one day and in the middle of conversation, my mom collapsed. Thankfully my dad was there and caught her, but he soon realized she had become victim to a seizure. He remembered what they were from when he was a child and his dad had seizures. It turned out that my mother was exhibiting symptoms based on the cancer that had been growing in her brain.
Everything changed. Our eating habits. Our interactions. Our extracurricular activities. Even how our friends acted toward us. I remember meal after meal was brought to our house by family friends, and neighbors, and people we had never met. I know there were a few families behind the scenes coordinating everything and I am thankful for everything they did, despite me not remembering who they were.
What really stood out to me was this. It was because of my mom that those families wanted to help us. It was my mom who showed all of them love and gave her time in effort for nothing in return. She created a community who cared about one another and I cherish her ability to do so.
On June 28, 2005, after 2 and half years of fighting brain cancer, in and out of remission, my mom, Elizabeth Peierls, passed away. Again, friends stopped by with their blessings and food. Others with words of reflection about my mom.
What I gathered was that my mother was a sun. She attracted others in an orbital fashion while giving off love and heat to nurture their souls. With bright red hair, she stood out among most and laughed like no one I have ever heard before, or since. Her ability to bring others together in hope and inspiration, especially in the times of need and grief, was her gift.
It has been 10 years since her passing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. More importantly, I have made the effort to understand how she would have raised me and what kind of values she would have passed on. Based on the combination of hers and my dad’s guidance, I began to mold myself the way I believed best.
I traveled to 4 continents in the fall of 2013, with the expectation that I would push my comfort zone. What I didn’t realize was that each environment that absorbed me expanded my definitions of need, want, and privilege more than I could myself. I saw similar needs in many countries relating to poor health sanitation, lack of education and medicine, and close proximity living quarters made from trash. I also witnessed the need for equality and understanding, the absence of inspiration, and the desire to be happy. I’m not saying that everything I saw was bad, and in fact, many of my best memories today originated from that trip. What I am saying is that I had never seen the need for action in my life more than I saw it then.
I knew that when I returned I wanted to sell my belongings and purchase a van to travel the country. I wanted to volunteer. A lot. And I got really into filming my adventures. Then it hit me. I could volunteer, film the volunteering, and encourage college students to volunteer! That might be something my parents would do.
I returned home – complete in a hazy state of culture shock. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t do it alone. I approached my friend Brad Burns, who I have known since we attended Camp Champions back when we were 10. “You want to travel the country, volunteer, and film it all?”.
“Sure!” So we started with this idea.
I bought an RV, which Brad’s brother creatively gave the name Harvey. Turned out that all of the planning that we had been doing toward the east coast, across the northern part of the country, and wrapping up in Alaska, was for naught. We had to cancel all of our tour dates with nearly 20 nonprofits because our friend Patrick’s mom discovered mold in Harvey.
For the next 4 months, we tore Harvey wall from wall rebuilding his insides and outsides. Meanwhile, Brad’s uncle brought up the idea of applying for 501(c)3 Public Charity status and altering the idea a little. We incorporated, formed a Board of Directors, and Passion Impact was born. The original mission was to help college students build a long-term habit of volunteering.
It took us 4 and a half months after leaving on June 15, 2014, to reach and get secured in Portland. Harvey broke down a lot. Over 10 times with the first being only 20 minutes from our original embarkation point. Throughout that time, we volunteered with multiple organizations in each city that we stayed and continued to build the framework for our vision. Granted, we had not made it to Portland or even thought about it as a home base at that time. We still wanted to travel and film.
For each person we met on our trip, I channeled my mom and her ability to listen. I was genuinely interested in each of their stories and experiences. You could say that I looked for the sun in each of them. We began to notice that the more we passed through towns and cities and the less we stayed in them, the less of a chance we had at actually changing the behavior of students. So, we set our eyes on Portland for the long haul.
Once reaching Portland, we all secured part-time jobs and began our work. The plan that we had originally put together melted away as we soon figured out what life would actually be like in the PNW. Despite all of our separate calendars, we found a way to grow Passion Impact slowly over the next 7 months.
I quit my part time job at the end of April and as of May 1, began working full time for Passion Impact. With this time, we have been able to design Xplore and Ignite: Adventuring, Understanding, and Building Community. In designing this program, I thought heavily on the past two years of my life and how what I had done allowed me to give to others. Referring back to the importance of giving that my mom and dad had taught me while growing up, I see a possibility for this program to thrive.
Xplore and Ignite High school program is designed to help students explore their city, it’s needs, and their passions to understand how they can better their community. This means meeting with nonprofits in their community and volunteering; reflecting on these experiences and why these organizations exist to give back; talking with community members about the problems they see and experience; and then designing projects as a team that take everything they learn and put it into a plan that students can choose to take on if they would like.
Xplore and Ignite 18+ Program will be meeting for 10 Sunday evenings to enjoy genuine and intelligent discussion over a FREE dinner in order to create something beautiful for the community with new friends.
Considering these are pilot programs, we have no clue if this first iteration will work. But then again, it is an adventure in and of itself. As we persist with our mission, we will eventually reach the point where we continually help students can volunteer their passions, love their community, and grow into happy and engaged community members.
Students deserve to chase something they are passionate about and to love it thoroughly. We want to help them get there and believe that this program is the first step.
This is something I could see my mom doing. This is dedicated to you Libby.