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The Purpose of Passion Projects

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Shellee Howard is building a school. It sounds daunting, but this is her passion: helping to educate and serve children in Africa. She discovered this passion in an unexpected way.

In 2011, Shellee’s son Ryan told her he wanted to be a doctor. As a mother, she wanted to determine whether Ryan had an altruistic heart for service, or if he just wanted to have the money, status, and reputation that comes with the title of doctor. She put him in a situation to find out.

Together, Ryan and Shellee went on a volunteer trip to Kenya. “Africa was my idea,” Shellee explains. “I wanted him to see extreme poverty.” After their 2011 trip, Shellee and Ryan were so moved by the community in which they served; Ryan later raised $5000 to send back to the community in Kenya. After discovering his passion for helping people in need, Shellee had no doubt her son wanted to become a doctor for the right reasons.

Serving in Africa has the power to be life changing. For Shellee, it was an emotional experience. “I came home so sad,” she admits. But there was more than sadness—there was also humility, gratitude, joy, and a desire to continue to work and serve in communities throughout the world. Shellee traveled to Peru and to many other countries. But something about Africa has continued to call her.

“It took me 11 years, but I got the opportunity to go to Africa again,” she says. Shellee had connected with a woman who was putting together a trip to work with a group of female entrepreneurs in Uganda. On their trip in the winter of 2023, Shellee and two other American women traveled to Uganda to meet with 15 Ugandan women-entrepreneurs. They worked together to develop business ideas, to overcome logistical obstacles, and to get inspiration and a bit of help for their small businesses.

Some of the solutions for Ugandan businesses were quite simple: a peanut press for a peanut butter-making Ugandan woman, a sewing machine for a local seamstress, and yarn and hooks for another woman who crocheted and sold scarves. All 15 women got great mentoring and resources for the future.

And then there’s the hands-on work that Shellee did in Uganda. Brick-by-brick, hands covered in mud, she worked with a local community to help build a classroom. In Uganda, $6000 will buy you a brick classroom that can hold 150 school children. Over the years, hundreds—maybe even thousands of children—will read, learn, and grow in that simple brick room.

There’s a famous parable about the men laying bricks at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London as it was being rebuilt after a fire in the 1600s. The architect Christopher Wren is said to have noticed 3 workers on a scaffold outside the church. One crouched; one half-stood, and the other stood up straight. Wren asked each man: “What are you doing?” Each worker had a different answer: One claimed he was a bricklayer, laying bricks to feed his family. The second said he was a builder, building a wall. The third said he was building a great cathedral; he saw himself as a part of something bigger. Each man was doing the same job, but they each had a different perspective about it. There is something truly beautiful about working to build a cathedral that you might never get to enjoy. Shellee understands this, and she wants to share the idea of having a passion project—a way to serve others—with young people throughout the world.

Through her work with College Ready, Shellee inspires many students to work on their own passion projects. “I believe if every teenager did 200 hours of service they were passionate about, the world would be a much better place.” Shellee encourages high school students to consider questions when they’re brainstorming about their own passion projects: Who do I care about? What am I good at? Who am I? What do I care about? At the intersection of all the answers to all of these questions is likely a great place to begin a passion project.

Shellee found ways to invite students to share their talents with her own recent Ugandan passion project. For the Uganda trip, 17 American students met online once a week for 7 weeks. They worked to discover their own passions and figured out creative ways they could help Ugandan communities. While Shellee didn’t travel to Africa with students for her trip in 2023, she arrived in Uganda with 70 pounds worth of students’ passion projects in the form of mental health educational materials, 6 soccer balls and pamphlets on the rules of soccer, 300 toothbrushes, first aid and wound care materials, and science and art materials as well.

In total, 17 students created 15 different passion projects, which were then packed and distributed to 3 schools and 2 orphanages in Uganda. These American students took their talents and creativity and channeled them into helpful educational materials for students in Uganda. The impact of this passion project was global.

Shellee Howard’s vision when she started College Ready was to help families to send their students to college debt free. One of the outstanding components of the work students do with College Ready is plan and execute their own passion projects. In turn, Shellee has been inspired to continue to practice what she preaches, doing her own passion projects around the world, year after year.

Some takeaways from Shellee’s passion projects can help students who are just starting out on their college application journey.

Begin with a vision. What do you see for the future? Do you have a major goal you want to achieve? What does that look like in action?

Finding your purpose and your personal values is important. Discovering at least one thing you care about is essential. Making an impact to improve or help the world—using your talent—is priceless. Your purpose could be teaching young children, helping sick animals, protecting the environment, raising awareness for certain issues—the options are endless. The ripple effect of just one passion project can be so powerful.

College Ready consultants can work with students to help design and implement a powerful, memorable passion project. Reach out for a free discovery call with Shellee Howard to learn more.

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