Since 1995, Peoria-based Outreach360 has provided educational opportunities to disadvantaged youth in Latin America. The mission of Outreach360 is to inspire and empower people to reach their full potential and give back by expanding educational, leadership, and service opportunities.
Peoria resident Tom Eklund founded the nonprofit organization after visiting an impoverished orphanage in the Dominican Republic. He began assembling small teams of volunteers to visit the orphanage on weeklong service trips. The groups would help provide basic necessities, improve the orphanage facilities, and provide much-needed educational assistance to the children.
After a few years, children, families, and schools outside the orphanage began requesting the volunteers work with them as well, primarily teaching English. The organization was blessed with many volunteers and began teaching English in local public schools. By 2011, Outreach360 also had its own after-school learning centers in both the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
“In Latin America, knowing English can provide huge educational and career opportunities,” Eklund says. “And opportunities to learn English from native English speakers are extremely valuable, especially in the rural areas where we work.”
By 2020, nearly 25,000 American and Canadian volunteers had served with Outreach360 in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Most volunteers participated in one-week service trips. Families, junior and senior high school students, college students, church groups, and seniors were all involved. Thousands of Dominican and Nicaraguan students received life-changing educational opportunities. A number of students from the orphanage and community received college scholarships, supported by Outreach360 donors.
In March 2020, COVID-19 interrupted Outreach360’s international volunteer program. However, the organization quickly pivoted to a virtual education program. Since May 2020, over 400 virtual volunteers have continued teaching Outreach360 students.
Outreach360’s Virtual Impact Program has produced some unexpected and significant breakthroughs. First, rather than being limited to two small communities in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, students from throughout Latin American are able to participate. Students from eleven different countries are now learning from Outreach360 volunteers. Second, volunteers no longer have to commit a full week and get on a plane to join Outreach360. Virtual international volunteer opportunities are available for as little as 75 minutes each week.
Virtual volunteer opportunities are available for experienced education professionals to serve as Lead Teachers, for adults and gap year students to serve as English teachers, and for volunteers from any background (as young as 13 years old) to serve as English and/or Spanish Enrichment Volunteers. Outreach360 virtual volunteers find the experience extremely rewarding. Local high school student Paloma Guerin says, “In this Outreach360 family, I have found kindness, passion, dedication, and a sense of community. I am so grateful to have been able to experience such a wonderful program, and I will definitely be coming back in the future.”
To learn more about Outreach360 virtual international volunteer opportunities, visit outreach360.org/virtualimpact.