Denise George, Receptively Yours co-owner, began her travel industry career twenty years ago, as director of youth sales at Planet Hollywood. Denise has served on committees for organizations including National Tour Association and American Bus Association, and on the Student & Youth Travel Association board of directors and the SYTA Youth Foundation (SYF) board of trustees. Here, she talks about fifteen years of SYF and its role in enhancing student travel.
What's your role with the SYTA Youth Foundation?
After spending more than six years helping SYF help students in need, I assumed the leadership position. It's been incredibly exciting as we embark on our fifteen-year anniversary and a fundraising campaign to coincide. This year, I've led a drive to develop a strategic plan for the future, and recently brought together SYF founders and major contributors in an extraordinary summit to define our next fifteen years. Most important, I've taken on the challenge to help SYF become a sustainable entity that will change young peoples' lives on an ongoing basis. I'm proud to serve alongside an amazingly dedicated board that understands our mission and keeps us moving forward.
How does SYF help students and youth?
SYF helps students in many ways, through fundraising efforts and student travel industry support and involvement. Through fundraising alone, we've exposed thousands to a travel experience that we believe—and have evidence to show—changes their lives for good.
- Each year, Road Scholarships award more than $100,000 to students in need for education, performance, cultural immersion, volunteer, and service travel.
- Silver Lining and Next Generation programs help groups of at-risk youth travel on programs with a facilitator who provides leadership and personal development classes as part of the trip.
- Opportunistic Programs help students in need to experience travel. The SYF board recently approved a $15,000 challenge grant to a group of students who faced losing a long-anticipated trip when a tour operator went out of business.
What should everyone know about SYF?
SYF is completely dedicated to changing young peoples' lives through the experience of travel. SYF provides to at-risk young people opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable due to family economic hardship, school system budget cuts, or lack of access. Travel is a vital learning experience—not a luxury. It brings classroom lessons to life in a way that can be far more relevant than just the brick-and-mortar classroom academic experience.
How could people help students and youth travel?
Our first fifteen years have been incredible. We've been fortunate to help so many students. We're committed to impacting a greater number of kids by raising more funds to help them travel and creating a renewable funding resource. People could help by donating, participating in Running for Youth, becoming a Wingman, urging their company to become a benefactor or corporate sponsor, promoting the SYF mission and programs within the industry, and even telling SYF their stories. When you know of or hear of a child who has a life-changing experience through taking a trip, tell us about it on Facebook. Send it to our website. Send us pictures of kids enjoying travel.
The benefits of travel go far beyond education. Travel helps young people build self-esteem, break down cultural walls, and develop independence, tolerance, and understanding. This happens on every student trip, on our trips, in our foundation programs. We get numerous letters and calls from students and teachers, telling us how much one trip changed a child's outlook on life.
SYTA is embarking on a research project that will help SYF measure the size and makeup of the student travel market and quantify the importance of the industry to school administrators, government officials, and others. Understanding the importance of travel for young people is vital to the creation of future leaders and to the future and stability of the world.
For more information, visit www.sytayouthfoundation.org.
Written by Amy L Charles, the editorial director for Groups Today.