Youth Forward Scholarship Summer 2017 – Finding Passion in Service

Name: Eleanor Wheeler Vanderburg
From: Laguna Niguel, CA
Grade: 10
School: iLEAD Exploration
Votes: 7

volunteerism is a fundamental part of who I am, just as ingrained in
what makes me me as my favorite song, or where I live. I was
raised in a family and household that greatly valued service to
others and giving back, this planted the seed for who I am today. My
journey in giving back started in school, but this wasn’t enough
for me so I set out on my own projects. I worked with the local
community and schools and after school clubs, doing anything I could
to give back and while it was incredibly rewarding, there wasn’t
one thing that gave me that set-your-soul-on-fire passion.

That is, until my
life was turned upside down at thirteen due to the onset of a rare
genetic disease. From the inside of a children’s hospital and from
the inside of a broken body, something finally clicked and I found my
passion from my hardship.

This began the
Superhero Project, an award winning initiative dedicated to finding
empowerment in pain and inspiring the superhero within us all. I
founded the Superhero Project in 2014 when I realized that sitting on
the sidelines wasn’t enough for me. The Superhero Project sends
free Superpower Bracelets around the world to anyone in need, to date
we have sent out just over 750. That’s 750 people who know they are
not alone, that’s 750 people who now have a small reminder of
strength to keep them going.

As I matured and
changed, my passions did as well. One cause that became a point of
paramount interest was the field of disability activism and rights.
This piqued my interest because of my own story, as a disabled
teenager. I saw myself and others around me face prejudice,
injustice, and hate on the basis of disability; something known as
ableism. I began speaking out against these injustices. Quickly
though, I realized that this was not enough, for our voices were
ignored, we were ignored, the world acting as if we don’t exist.
This was the inspiration for We Exist Collective, which I created and
continue to run; We Exist is a social movement to start a real
conversation about ableism. We are creating a community of
changemakers and mountain movers through stories from real people,
accessible resources for disabled people, and giving a platform to
disabled voices.

My experiences with
various volunteer opportunities has made it clear that this is what
I’m meant to do. I haven’t worked out exactly how, but I do know
that whatever I end up doing, it will always be on a basis of giving
back. Whether that means studying medicine and practicing in third
world countries, studying computer science and working with
nonprofits in an increasingly digital world, or something entirely
different that I have yet to dream up, I know that I will not be
satisfied sitting on the sidelines when there is more that can be

Join our Facebook group "Volunteers for a Better World".