SAN ANTONIO – It’s part high school group, part service organization, and during the summer, it’s part travel club. Lee High School students who are members of the Summer of Service have already enjoyed trips all over the world this summer break and more are planned for August.
Gabriel Samandi is a junior who has enjoyed all the global travel. "This summer I've gone to D.C. and also China, and then in two days I'll be going to England and France, as well as other service opportunities around the city," he said.
Those service opportunities are the other part of SOS. The students sign on to help other nonprofit organizations get their jobs done. Things like building a community garden or gathering school supplies for underprivileged kids are part of their weekly service jobs. "Recently, I went to San Antonio Pets Alive, where I took car of little pets and walked the dogs there," said Jessica Alvarez, a sophomore who also just returned from China.
The trip was to interact their high school counterparts in San Antonio’s sister city of Wuxi. They served as ambassadors and even experienced a school for mentally disabled children, a rarity in China.
The SOS organization is the brainchild of teacher Amir Samandi, a former State Department employee. He thinks travel internationally helps kids grow and was motivated to start the nonprofit when a young middle school student questioned him about a picture on his desk. "She saw a brochure and asked, ‘What's that? It was a picture of the Eiffel Tower’ and, 'Sir, can you take us?'"
Since then he and other volunteer teachers from different schools plan service events, as well as the big international visits.
"We combine community service on the local level in order to empower students to travel abroad, so in a sense they are learning about others locally, but they are also learning about others around the world, and in the process, they learn more about themselves," Samandi said.
Even his son is part of the group, which raising the money for the trips through weekly fundraisers at restaurants. Money raised funds scholarships for the students who can’t afford to go on their own.
"You can read about or you can find things on the internet, but there's nothing like it until you go experience it. World travel is just transformative and amazing and I'm honored to get the opportunity to do it," the younger Samadi said.