Name: Katie Liber
School: Marquette University
“JOY is the spark, when you realize that we can make a difference and life is beautiful. Joy is hope for what life gives you."
For Katie, it all started when she met Frankie, JOY’s founder, on her third-grade soccer team.
Katie and Frankie grew up together, remaining friends to this day. They’ve competed in three marathons together. And they always make time to go running together on school breaks.
Frankie told Katie all about JOY; this crazy idea- allowing college students to use their passions to serve kids in the Dominican Republic. As soon as Frankie told Katie that she didn’t have to be a Miami student to serve with JOY, Katie knew she wanted to go.
“I want to be a pediatric nurse because making kids feel happy and loved is a passion of mine. And that is totally the reason I want to go- the opportunity to change someone's life even if it's small.”
In May 2015, Katie and her twin sister Lexie went with JOY and Here For Kids International to the Dominican Republic.
Towards the end of the week, the team spent time in Santo Domingo. They had the opportunity to take the children at Miancerg School to the aquarium and the zoo.
“Most of these kids had never left their village before. The parents were so excited that their children got to leave and they were all crowded around the bus waving and cheering. The kids were just piled on us."
"They were so excited; pressed up against the window, shouting, and chanting about everything they saw. Even about mangos! It was amazing to see their joy at simple things like riding in a bus.”
That day, Katie met a little Dominican girl, also named Katie. The simple connection of having the same name soon had them joined at the hip for the whole day.
“Being there experiencing Katie’s firsts with her was so amazing. Her innocence and acceptance of anything that came her way was so awesome."
“All the kids were just so generally happy. Kids have a happiness to them that once we grow older, we forget about. None of these kids had much, but they were still so giving; with their attention, their time, and their love."
When Katie returned home, she felt a little lost. The culture and atmosphere were so different in America than the Dominican Republic. But Katie recognized what God was doing in her life and what he had given her through JOY.
“Everything had a purpose and everything started connecting. I went to the Dominican Republic and I’m here right now because of all the things God has done in my life."
“JOY turned my life around and made me feel like i have purpose- because I do! I’m not a nobody. I'm not scared of the future anymore because I know great things are going to happen because I'm following Him.”
Katie resolved to use what the kids in the Dominican Republic taught her in her everyday life. She wanted to impact those she cared about at home.
“I’ve gained an appreciation for life and I try to make a positive impact however I can because it does make a difference. I’m just trying to be my true self by making others feel loved and important.”
Through the love of the children in the Dominican Republic, Katie realized that joy is a choice and she has to choose to be joyful every single day.
“I choose to be joyful because life is so short and you should live it to the fullest. Tests and papers have no comparison to what life is really about. It's about making connections and being with each other. When people are impacting each other's lives, the world becomes a better place.”
For more stories like Katie’s, follow us on social media @spreadjoynow.
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By Alex Applegate | Photos courtesy of Katie Liber