Teen Serves Maryland Community Through Multiple Volunteer Organizations

Daily Point of Light # 6802 Jun 19, 2020

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Esther Obioha. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

What Esther Obioha values most in life is making the world a better place in any way she can. Take one quick glance at the long list of ways she serves her community, and it’s clear that she is very much succeeding in upholding her values.

The eighteen-year-old has been an active Girl Scout for the past five years. She frequently volunteers with the organization, including assisting in leading younger troops and helping out at a local Girl Scouts summer camp. For her Gold Award, which is the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn, she formed the Scholar Dollars Club to help her fellow high school students find and prepare submissions for scholarships. She even attended college courses in order to teach herself how to code a scholarship database. Through the organization, Esther also helped start a menstrual product drive to send sanitary products to girls in Malawi and Nigeria, and co-founded the Women of Color Union in order to connect with and support local girls.

Aside from Girl Scouts, Esther also helps her Silver Spring, Maryland, community by volunteering monthly at Shepherd’s Table, her local soup kitchen, along with her family and the youth group she leads. She also organizes her church to donate meals each month to the nonprofit So Others May Eat, which helps those living in poverty around the Washington, D.C. area. Esther will be heading to the University of Pittsburgh this fall and hopes to enter the healthcare field so she can continue to serve communities in need. Her goal is to open healthcare clinics in healthcare deserts to ensure people living in such areas receive high quality healthcare regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Can you talk to me about your involvement with Girl Scouts and your Gold Award?

I’ve been a Girl Scout for about five years. I do a lot of Sudden Service [Girl Scouts program to notify members of last-minute volunteer opportunities], so any time the Council calls us to do any events or any sort community service where they need extra people, we’re always on the front lines. Every summer — except this one, of course — we go up to a camp up in [Brookeville, Md.] called Camp Brighton Woods. They serve primarily girls in Title 1 schools, so there are reading comprehension-type activities. It’s a really fun place to get girls to come to camp and be able to get a gist of the Girl Scout experience. I even went to one of those camps growing up and that’s what got me hooked onto Girl Scouts in the first place. And then I help my troop leader with her youngest troop.

My Gold Award was the Scholar Dollars Club. I created a scholarship database for my high school. That was pretty difficult because I had never coded before in my life, so I took some classes at [the University of Maryland and Montgomery College] and I even went to my school’s magnet coordinator to get me into the gist of everything. The main reason why I started this project is because there’s a huge gap in getting people to know about scholarships and awareness of certain scholarships out there, especially localized ones, because Montgomery County is only really allowed to advertise the ones they have vetted themselves. That means a lot of the local ones tend to come and go without really any applicants, so whoever would apply would get the full prize or even all the prizes sometimes. I would vet them myself and send them out through newsletters. I realized it would be perfect to have a place where people can translate things and have those things up for them, and any time they wanted to check, they could just go on the database. Currently it’s closed because it’s through Montgomery County, and since schools have been closed the past two months, I’ve really struggled to upload things on to there, so I’ve just been giving out newsletters and keeping everybody posted through my email. During the club, it would [meet] biweekly and we would talk about community service activities. We would write essays together. On certain days of the week, I would call into the career center and explain to them through their translators and everything, the scholarships that are coming up and the ones they can apply for, and do essay-writing workshops and get them ready for the scholarships that are coming up. Through my career center, we worked with other students for internships and community service activities because basically, most of the scholarships deal with what you plan to do in the future [and] what impact have you had in your community, and usually for most people that is their community service.

Esther Obioha is an active volunteer in her Silver Spring, Md. community, where she is in involved in Girl Scouts, her church’s youth group and more service projects./Courtesy Esther Obioha

Through Girl Scouts, I also cofounded the Women of Color Union with my cousin. That was during the Women’s March. We wanted to have a group of girls to go with, so for people who didn’t really have a friend group to go with, we could all take the metro together and march together. After that, it sparked into talking with other girls about having more female authors in our curriculum and having a women’s rights event during our Women’s History Month, which was really nice. In April this year, because April is Black Women’s History Month, we did a really cool thing with black female artists. That was an all online event and really difficult, but it turned out really well. … It was really nice that we all got together, and continued to stay together and talk about the issues that impact us at school and in our communities. I really enjoyed that.

Can you describe the menstrual product drive?

It all started when I was a lot younger. My troop and I were helping another girl [to] get products and supplies for her Gold Award. Around this time, my school wanted to do something with having products being sent over [to girls who needed them], so I was thinking we could make pads. … Because my friend who is also in my Girl Scout troop was also creating pads, I was like, “Why don’t we all link up and do this one big thing?” My troop had a menstrual product drive where they made reusable pads. Then [along with] my school … we put the announcement out there and girls came in and donated things. I know my troop isn’t 100% done with the pads they are doing, but there’s care packages that have already been made with the group that we collected. Those will be sent off in late August I’m hoping. There are some that are going to go to Malawi. When I went to Nigeria two years ago, I realized for a lot of girls in the villages around me — one, there aren’t really many places to go out and buy pads in a timely manner. Two, the pads that are over there are very different from the pads that are over here, and they tend to be more uncomfortable and irritating to that area. I thought it would be a really good idea to send some to those places too, and other villages around, because they aren’t that close to the main city. Each of the boxes we made come with two pads, compostable wipes and a DIY heating pad.

Can you discuss your food distribution-related volunteer work?

I volunteer at Shepherd’s Table. As of recent, I’ve only gone there about two or three times. Every first Saturday and every second Tuesday of the month, I would volunteer at Shepherd’s Table with my church and with my youth group, because I lead my youth group. On Tuesday evenings, I bring my whole youth group and we do dinners there. On those Saturdays, I would just go with myself and my sister, or maybe I would grab a couple friends, or even sometimes I would be like “Hey, I booked this whole day for us, anybody who needs community service hours can just come in.” The space would fill up fast. I would just throw it out there to the club and people would come. It’s really fun. I think the main thing with community service is it’s so much fun when you have people to do it with. … Sometimes my mom, my sister and I would make really big meals for Thanksgiving or holidays and call in beforehand and make sure we can send them in. It’s always just been something that I’ve done. Growing up, that’s something my mom loved to do, so I just kind of followed in her footsteps and it became something I really loved to do. I know it’s something I plan on doing when I go off to college as well.

I [volunteer for So Others May Eat] through my church. It’s the third Sunday of every month. Because not everybody has the time to go and do the soup kitchen, it thought it would be great if everyone can bring meals on that Sunday and then we can send it off to So Others May Eat. It’s an organization where they prepare meal packages, and it’s also kind of like a soup kitchen as well. They [said] what would really help is if you can prepare these meals for us and we could come and pick them up. I thought that could be doable. A lot of people make meals and store them and things like that, so I felt like if we made sure everybody knew about it and kept doing it, we could continue this cycle of community service. Even if it’s not within our community, we can help people in other communities as well.

What inspires you to volunteer in so many different ways?

Honestly, it’s just the people. I remember when I did my first toy drive with my church. My mom used to take me to Shepherd’s Table when she would volunteer, and I would just play with the other kids. I talked about what I hoped to get for Christmas, and then one of the girls I was playing with was like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I’m going to get any toys for Christmas.” I was talking to my mom, “While we’re doing the coat drive this year, can we also ask for people to bring in toys?” We ended up getting a lot of donations, even from friends and family in the community that weren’t even in the parish. We packaged them up and sent them to Shepherd’s Table that winter. It was a wonderful experience to be able to give back in a way that I never thought I could. Even though it may not have been something really big, it was something that had a lasting impact on those kids’ life, being able to have something as simple as a gift that winter. Even taking that burden off their parents that winter, as well, was really nice. I’ve continued to come to Shepherd’s Table and when I was old enough, I started volunteering there.

Then at Girl Scouts, I started doing coastal cleanups and stuff like that. The people I got to meet were so zealous about giving back to their community. It really had an impact on myself, because this was something I already liked to do and these are the people I would like to be around. At camp, just being able to see girls that looked like me doing great things and amazing things, that pushed me to want to be a Girl Scout in the first place. Being a camp counselor myself, being able to be the county-renowned “wonder nugget,” it’s really interesting getting to know the girls and teach them about the Girl Scout values and being able to be a role model to these girls. … It just gives me a warm feeling in my heart that I am able to make an impact through other girls’ lives and through my community, because I was inspiring for them. I was that role model for them. I really do like being able to give back, because you never know how much that can have a hold on people’s lives. That even pushes people to go out and do community service themselves, to help people the way that others helped them.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Honestly, I would say always think about things in the other person’s shoes, but I feel like that’s something I also learned through bible study at school, through all the parables and all the versus we read that are all about giving back to others and respecting others. Community service is one of the ways you can do all of those things in one package. For me, if you see something that you can help with, then there should be no reason why you should stand by. If there’s anything you can do to make the world a better place then do it. For Girl Scouts, it’s “leave a place better than you found it.” All the things I do are all interconnected with community service because that’s the one thing I value most — making the world a better place anyway I can.

Esther Obioha, center, works to serve food with her Girl Scout troop at her local soup kitchen, Shepherd’s Table./Courtesy Jennifer Manguera

Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?

I feel like in a community where many people are thriving, you thrive as a result. I feel that’s something people tend to forget. If one part of a car isn’t working, then it’s going to be harder to operate that car. If you are able to relieve some of the stress off of another person, they’re able to thrive and they’re able to impact their community. … I feel like sometimes, everybody gets so busy and so caught up in everything that’s going on in their lives, that they tend to forget that not everybody is as fortunate as they. Sometimes they need those couple of meals so they actually have the energy to go out and do their jobs. They need that coat in the winter so they can go and do the jobs they need to do. People need that leg up, and if you have the privilege and if you have the resources to do so, why not help out? Why not help out your community so your community can grow and flourish?

What do you want people to learn from your story?

If anything, I would just tell people to take the risk and find something in community service they love and make that one of their biggest priorities. See how much that effects the world around you. Honestly, I feel like everybody should participate in community service whether it be something as simple as tutoring, or something as big as donating to causes. Especially now in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are so many things people can do to help others, whether it be signing petitions, donating to the local organizations, even donating meals out to those local organizations so people can be fed throughout these protests. There are so many things that you can do. It doesn’t always have to be the obvious. There are always things that are lurking around in the background that people almost never think about. You just have to find what you really like to do and put all your time and effort into it.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Esther? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Morganne Mallon