By Dawn M. Chiossi
During this time of the year the air is filled with excitement: Summer is right around the corner and soon young people will be graduating. Along with the standard caps and gowns, there will be thoughts and plans, of ambitions and expectations of what comes next.
In the 1960’s young people with wanderlust and a deep desire to make a difference to those less fortunate joined the Peace Corps. Either at home or abroad, the common denominator, the common goal for so many is to make a difference.
Ambitions are high, confidence is soaring and there’s never been a better time for young people to put their energies, time and talents to better use. There’s so much to be done, and now making a difference right here at home is the brand new Mount Olive Community Fellowship Program.
Piloted just this year, this community fellowship program was the brainchild of Mt Olive’s Boby Yazdi and Mt. Olive High School Senior, Maya Shah.
“We are searching for passionate and committed people to mobilize and join our fellowship,” Yazdi said.
Stressing that this is not a religious organization, Yazdi explains that community fellowship is for everyone.
When asked why he wanted to found such an organization, he answers quickly, “It’s exciting. There’s such a
disconnect between young people and the communities. I want to change that, harnessing their energy and commitment to changing the many problems out there.”
Mount Olive native, Yazdi is a literal ball of energy and motion. After graduating from Mount Olive High School in 2017, this impressive student decided to take ‘The Road Less Traveled’, by deciding not to go on to college or a higher learning establishment, as many students do. Instead, he took what is known as a two-year gap year — also known as a sabbatical year when a student takes a year (in this case, two) long break between high school and college or university. The student then often travels or maintains some kind of work.
There are a number of advantages to taking a gap year–taking that break away from that steady bubble of education. Students that take advantage of gap years often possess accelerated maturity regarding life experiences. Due to their new experiences they enjoy improved academic performance, due to the confidence, ambition and accountability that the sabbatical affords. With a new environment and perhaps even a new culture, students will not only be challenged, they will have an appreciation for that same culture by experiencing it. Additionally, taking the break will give students a chance to refocus and regroup, taking a psychological break from what they previously had been doing. The rewards they receive are tremendous, improving their career opportunities.
It was something that spoke to Yazdi. Recognizing that going straight through from high school to college wasn’t for him, he took 2 gap years. Working with several organizations, he decided to travel to India to see what he could do for the people there.
Passionate regarding economic inequality, math, teaching, politics and giving back to others, India seemed like a perfect choice for him.
In his first gap year, he worked with Global Citizen Year members in Hyderabad, India. He spent a profitable eight months working as a classroom assistant for a Teach for India Fellow Member.
The whole experience was so rewarding for Yazdi, that he decided to go for a second gap year. This time he worked in Chicago with City Year Chicago Americorps Volunteers. Paired with 12 students, Yazdi taught 6th and 7th grade math to students.
Now back home in Mt. Olive, Yazdi is eagerly seeking to share what he has learned from his experiences, and to bring them to others.
“Our goal is to increase community engagement as well as community pride across several age groups. I wanted to model this after my work in India,” he remarks. “A chance to give a high school grad a chance to take on a leadership role, as well as making a difference to the community.”
Besides giving back and making a difference right here at home, the new Mount Olive Fellowship will offer so much to its members, including valuable professional work experience and training.
Fellows, as they are called by Yazdi, will be comprised of students and recent graduates of Mt. Olive High School who have not found an internship for the summer of their Freshman/Sophomore year and are planning to spend the summer in Mt. Olive.
There are plenty of ways to give their time, energy and hard work to this cause.
For Yazdi and Shah (the National Honor Society president), their initiative isn’t just a whim or a causal project. They treat it seriously, taking every step in methodical fashion. Yazdi describes how the Fellows will choose what track they would like to do, which area they would like to aid in. This includes the Mayor’s Office, Senior Center, Environmental Track and Education.
While the tracks may be broad, participants will be able to accomplish so much. For example, if someone is interested in joining the Environmental Track, they will not only be involved with the community garden, they will be involved with donating food to various organizations in need.
Participants will have to undergo a 6 to 8 week training before beginning the fellowship.
Although they have only barely begun, the Mt. Olive Community Fellowship is already powering ahead. Both Yazdi and Shah have chosen young coordinators to lead and make sure that the fellows selected are successful, and in the most useful position.
Coordinators are Caitlin McNally with the Mayor’s Office, Alicia Nwandu with the Senior Center, Christopher Lieb handling the environmental track, and Boby Yazdi will handle the education track.
Looking for something special to bring to both the member’s and the organization itself, the coordinators have contributed in positive ways to the community. For example, Nwandu has founded a Medicine Club, and has been volunteering with the recreation center for all four of her high school years.
All of them are enthusiastic, hard working, and have a deep desire to facilitate change through leadership roles.
“All of our coordinators had to fill out our applications and submit letters of intent to be considered for their
positions,” explains Yazdi. “All of our coordinator’s applications were very inspiring to both Maya and I, and we are very glad to have them on board. It’s wonderful for everyone to be given the chance to recruit more people to work together to benefit the community.”
He is equally excited to coordinate the education track, as he has had experience as a classroom assistant and academic mentor for the past two years. “I am looking forward to training our education track tutors on exactly how they can use data — our Ferpa Compliant Agreement to tutor in a targeted fashion,” he says.
“My teaching in India was great,” he enthuses. In addition to his tutoring, he worked with his students on a recycling collection drive that extended to 47 schools across the country. “I had a few of my students in my classroom that went to other classes and gave presentations on why they should keep their used papers, cardboard, etc in a separate container for recycling purposes. Three of my students took it a step further and started coordinating with other schools”, he shares.
Although it has just barely begun, the Mount Olive Community Fellowship is already well on its way. Yazdi and Shah have already been reaching out to various community organizations, departments, schools and businesses to gage their interests and enlist their support.
The founders are already bursting with plans and aspirations for the organization such as future scholarships and more.
Beyond empowerment and taking an active role, the Mt. Olive Community Fellowship is all about leadership and making a difference. It’s a place where young people can add their voices, perspectives, and abilities to solving existing problems, in a methodical and successful way.
For Yazdi, none of this would have been possible if he didn’t take the gap year. “I think gap years leave their participants with a set of burning questions. Those questions inspired me (and the other fellows) to think about what problems we wanted to solve as opposed to study. It helps clarify things in my opinion,” he asserts. “I think there is also so much wisdom in the world that a young person wouldn’t have access to until they go and try to find it.”