Deonte Howard is a sophomore at West Mecklenburg High School. His mom had some good news to share with him a few months ago.
"When my mom called me about the interview, said that I passed, I can tell she was crying," Howard says. "I was like, 'Wow, I'm actually going to Africa.'"
Howard, 16, is one of four high school students from Charlotte selected for the nine-day trip to West Africa through the YMCA of Greater Charlotte's Global Service Learning Project. This will be his first time outside of North America.
There are 124 YMCA headquarters worldwide and Charlotte's global partners are Senegal and Gambia. For the past few years, the Charlotte YMCA has been helping support a school run by the YMCA of Senegal. So the YMCA thought it would be a good idea to start what they hope will become an annual service trip.
Candace Cooper Murray is the YMCA's Community Health and Global Initiatives Project Manager. She will serve as the group's leader in Senegal. She says starting the Global Service Learning Project was about promoting diversity and giving young people leadership roles.
"The Y just isn't a place you go and workout, it's actually a mission-driven organization that's serving community needs right here in Charlotte and also important needs around health and education in Dakar," Murray says.
The trip costs $2,800 per person. The students had to raise $1,000 and spent six weeks volunteering with an afterschool literacy program to be eligible for the remainder.
In Dakar, the capital of Senegal, the students will observe similar literacy programs and participate in community service projects.
The students will give presentations what they learned from the trip when they return. The other three students are Teal Green of West Mecklenburg High School, Anjelica Pendergrass of West Charlotte High School and Alan Lee of Butler High School.