Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Interview: Courtney Whitfield for Tom's Gift to Give

Happy New Year! My January interview is an inspiration for all of you teens! Meet Courtney Whitfield of Moreno Valley, California. This lucky gal put the typical teen life aside to help others and we are in awe. Courtney reached out to us when she entered the TOMS Shoes Ticket to Give contest last summer asking for our support. I am happy to report that the KMP team tracked her journey every step of the way. As one of the fifty winners Courtney joined the TOMS team on a Giving Trip where she traveled to an unknown destination to give the gift of shoes to children in underprivileged communities. My respect and gratitude goes out to this selfless young woman who wanted to make a difference and took action to do so and the organizations involved who made it possible. Hear how this experience impacted Courtney, changed her life, and meanwhile has become an inspiration for all!

Kymberly Marciano: Please share with us why you wanted to do this. Was there a specific reason?
Courtney Whitfield: I love what TOMS does and always have but more specifically, I have an extreme passion for children. I guess you could say it began when I was a child myself. Although I do not remember the story, my mom often reminds me of it... when I was very young I was watching one of those commercials with the "starving children in Africa" digging through the trash looking for food. I took my freshly made tuna sandwich, put it in a plastic bag, and threw it away. When my mom saw me do this she was so surprised and asked why I did it. I said because all of the kids on T.V. didn't have food and I had hoped they would find a clean sandwich wrapped up for them in their trash cans. This was a teachable moment and learned to be thankful for the food I have and that I should eat it instead of wasting it. Looking back...how funny! All the way from Moreno Valley, California, I was determined my trash would make it to a child in a third world country who could enjoy my favorite tuna fish sandwich. Oh the hope of a child!

KM: You told me you are 19 years young, so what inspires you?
CW: Kids! I have two nephews and a niece that have always been a very big part of my life. Eleven days before I lost my mom to cancer, my youngest nephew was born and it was a simple reminder that God gives and takes away. Once I began living with my sister and her family, these three kids were easily the most inspiring things in my life. Seeing the faith and hope that kids have about life is just such an amazing thing. 

KM: I know the destination was kept secret initially and you had only 7 days, so tell us about the locations you served?
CW: I was primarily in Lima, Peru. Amazing! I also traveled along the coast visiting other locations such as Pachacútec, Callao, Cañete, Chincha, Ica, and Pisco. At first it was surreal.

KM: With whom did you travel?
CW: I had the privilege of going on this trip with 11 of the 50 "Ticket to Give" winners, as well as two great TOMS photographers, one hilarious TOMS employee, an amazing interpreter, two wonderful TOMS/Coprodeli partners, and the most skillful bus driver in the world (Seriously, driving in Peru can be deadly).

KM: How exciting! In 3 words describe the TOMS team, any faves?
CW: Caring, Hilarious, Amazing! This is almost impossible though; Heidi, Kirk, and Lizzy are seriously some of the most amazing people I could ever imagine meeting. I feel blessed.

KM: How about training? Any valuable advice? 
CW: There was not really any specific training, there was a week where TOMS flew us down to Los Angeles to visit their headquarters where we had a bit of preparation, but for the most part every employee had the same thing to say "Do not go in with any expectations and focus completely on the moments that you are in." And they could not have given better advice.

KM: I imagine it was a culture shock, can you describe a typical day for the volunteers?
CW: Hard Work! This was by no means a fun vacation, but was easily the most amazing and life changing week I have had in my 19 years of existence. The days were long and the moments were great! There was tons of shoe distributing, playing with kids, and the most amazing food EVER!

KM: Did you work with children, families, & villages?
CW: We mainly worked with children through the Coprodeli school system. The Coprodeli group works very hard daily to give these kids a normal childhood, I had no idea how difficult it can be for these kids who take on so much responsibility at such a young age, to see the kids in this way really touches your heart. It was incredible to work closely with the volunteers who do what we did for a short week, EVERYDAY, which still blows my mind! 

KM: As the baby of the group, was anything a surprise for you?
CW: Everything was such a surprise, this was my first time ever leaving the country, and I had no idea what to expect with anything. It was amazing to see how similar all kids are, how they all have that desire to just have fun and be a kid... regardless of the clothes on their back or the money in their pockets.

KM: What was the most powerful part of your trip/experience?
CW: As simple as it is, playing with the kids. I will NEVER forget the connections that I had with those children. It was very powerful the way they look at you, look up to you, and treat you like a celebrity. I feel so blessed.

KM: Would you do it again?
CW: In a heartbeat. I want to take everyone I know with me, this is seriously something that absolutely everyone needs to experience. I will definitely be back and cant wait!

KM: What's in store for you in 2014? And what advice can you give for other teens who have dreams or goals for making a difference?

CW:  For 2014, I really want to focus on the little things. When making a difference, I realized that it does not have to be something huge because ALL small things lead to something HUGE. I will focus on the homeless problem here in Chico and do my best to reach out to people when I can given I am a full time student. Everyone should consider that there are endless problems in your own backyard, and after my experience with TOMS, I would like to focus on what I can do in mine first! I plan to save up because I would LOVE to make another trip to Peru or another destination with the amazing TOMS team in the next year or so! 

-XO Courtney

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