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Local volunteer shares passion for service

Wade Fuller sees volunteer work as the ideal intersection of passion and skill, and he thinks it can change the world.

That’s why the 22-year-old Concord native will take three weeks to teach English, math and computer literacy at an elementary school for underprivileged kids in Cape Town, South Africa, this summer before starting his career with Intuit Inc. in San Diego.

“I want to teach the kids how to have curiosity about the world and how to ask questions,” he said. “They have basically one room of computers for the whole school, so they have the whole world at their fingertips for the very first time, and that’s exciting. . . . I’m really looking to use the internet to help guide the learning there and to bring it to the next level.”

Fuller said his interest in volunteer work began at Concord High School when he worked with the Toys for Tots Christmas program at the Manchester Salvation Army. He also did treasury work for Concord School District’s Parent Teacher Organization and worked for free at Phil’s Computer Doctor store.

“I don’t think people are as interested in service as they should be, and I think that’s just a gap in knowledge,” he said. “Just find something that you love to do, and then find a way to give back in the community using that passion and that skill.”

The decision to go abroad came when Fuller realized that the window of time between graduating from New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology in May and starting his career in the fall would be his first chance to make such a commitment.

“I’ve always been able to volunteer domestically in my own communities, but internationally you basically go where the help is needed,” he said. “And I know Cape Town is definitely a place where help was needed. . . . I’ve never lived anywhere else other than the U.S. so it’s definitely going to be a little bit challenging, a little bit scary, to be honest.”

While at RIT, Fuller studied Management Information Systems and served as vice president of KEEP Rochester, a group that collects clothing, toiletries, diapers and housewares for Rochester-area women’s and men’s shelters. He also participated in the Junior Achievement program, teaching elementary school children life-skills strategies, particularly in personal finances.

Peter Rosenthal, associate director of student services for the Saunders College of Business at RIT, coordinates the Junior Achievement program and said volunteers can directly affect the dropout rate in Rochester public schools by serving as role models for the younger students.

“My expectation is that there’s something that they can say or do or show the young people at the school that those kids are going to remember, and it’ll convince them to give it another shot when they’re struggling with something in or out of school,” Rosenthal said. “The college students are at an age that’s not too removed, so I think maybe the younger kids at the school can relate to them better than the adults.”

Fuller said he believes in “service reciprocity” and that often, the volunteer benefits just as much as the people he or she serves.

“When you give to someone who needs it, you can see how important that is to them, but also it brings back a certain amount to you,” he said. “It’s a reciprocity; it’s a feedback loop essentially.”

Rosenthal said he recruited Fuller for the JA program because of his “upbeat, positive manner,” and added that anyone with real enthusiasm for service and the discipline to follow through with the work can make a difference.

“Everything starts with respect,” Fuller said. “You have to respect whoever you’re talking to . . . because you just have had different experiences than they do. You’re looking to open up their world to new experiences and to some of the fortune that you’ve had.”

(Ann Marie Jakubowski can be reached at 369-3302 or ajakubowski@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @AMJakubowski.)

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