Cequyia York is a hard worker—and that’s the way she likes it. Cece swims competitively (currently ranked 2nd in Alabama for USA Swimming), participates in foreign engagement seminars through the State Department, and currently has an 850-day streak on Duolingo in Korean lessons. But her real passion? Community engagement.
“I love working, period, but seeing something good happen in my community through my efforts is extremely motivating,” she said.
She’s a high school senior now, but Cece and her family began homeschooling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They quickly discovered that the flexible and self-directed nature of homeschooling was a perfect fit. And homeschooling allowed her more free time to focus on serving others.
Cece’s love for service began on a mission trip to Atlanta. She saw firsthand how something as simple as washing windows can brighten a person’s day. A few years later, during Christmas time, she noticed many people organizing toy drives for children. She wanted to help her community too, but decided to focus her attention on the elders in her community.
She organized efforts to send Christmas cards or small gifts to local seniors. Gifts ranged from basic necessities to games to seasonal decor. She eventually expanded the project to include Halloween and Thanksgiving, and even got her swim team involved. The project energized the whole team.
And as part of her AP U.S. Government & Politics course through HSLDA Online Academy, she participated in a civic engagement project of her choice. Her thoughts quickly turned to the voting patterns of the homeless.
Cece quickly discovered that many of the homeless in her community are veterans. As a member of a military family, the revelation saddened her greatly. These men and women fought for America, and now they were not participating in the democratic process.
In her conversations with homeless veterans, she discovered that it is usually simple logistics that prevents them from voting. Without homes, they have no addresses to confirm residency, and they lack necessary documentation (like birth certificates) for registration. Furthermore, there are so many other more immediate needs in their lives that they just don’t want to worry about voting.
So Cece sprang into action. She visited a local housing organization and brainstormed ways homeless vets could receive ID cards to increase voter registration. She also wrote to her state senator and suggested improvements to the state statute.
Although these efforts have a long way to go, she is excited to stay involved in local politics and help her community in a meaningful way.
Cece’s civic engagement extends beyond her local community. She has also participated in exchange programs through the State Department, and she recently attended one in South Korea for two weeks. Cece loved learning more about the South Korean people and culture, and examining different issues from a global perspective.
Afterward, she was accepted into a rural engagement seminar in Alabama, also through the State Department. The seminar focused on the needs of rural communities around the globe. Cece was the only high school student in attendance—everyone else was in college, graduate school, or beyond.
All of these experiences strengthened Cece’s heart for service, already established from the models she saw at home. Her dad regularly cuts their neighbors’ lawns, and her mom frequently bakes for loved ones. Cece knows that small acts of service make a significant impact.
Practice Meets Theory
Cece is fascinated by people—the way we live, the way we think. She is excited to explore this interest and apply her real-world experiences as an anthropology major at Emory University this fall. She intends to also pursue religious studies, with particular emphasis on Judaism and Christianity.
Her desire to work, excel, and help others continues. She will be swimming competitively at Emory and is excited to be on a team again. Her family plans to officially incorporate her gift and card drives for seniors so that they continue after she heads to college.
“I always feel I am my best self when serving others, and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to engage in my community to show a helping hand and spread the love of God,” Cece says in an essay reflecting on her past service projects. “This is my most precious joy and achievement.”
Photo credit: Cover image, iStock. Portrait courtesy of the family.