Transformation Through Service

Jan 19, 2021

Student travel exists to make the world a better place, and Felice Prindle exemplifies that mission as a school counselor in upstate New York. Leading her students at Bloomfield Central Schools—not too far from Rochester—Prindle is brave, motivated and passionate. Despite being a fairly small school system, with a graduating class of around 70, Prindle and her students have had a meaningful impact across the world.

That’s why she was awarded SYTA’s 2020 Youth First Award, given annually to an individual or organization that demonstrates a commitment to enriching students’ lives through travel and/or contributing to the advancement of our industry through volunteer activities, community service or education.

Over the past five years, she’s led more than 100 high school students on service projects through the International Baccalaureate “Creativity, Activity, Service” program (IB CAS). They were some of the first American travelers to visit Cuba, planting mangrove seeds along the ZaZa River in 2016 to protect against natural disasters. They’ve also visited the Dominican Republic and Peru—installing water pipes, constructing schools and building latrines—with more trips planned for 2021.

Prindle said it all goes back to Cuba, when she first had the idea for a culturally immersive service project for her students. “I’ll never forget how nervous we were; our group of 18 trailblazers, presenting a project for Board of Education approval. ‘Who’s been to Cuba?’ asked our superintendent, and we would in fact be some of the first Americans in over 50 years to do just that. It was doubtful that our board would approve such a novel proposal.

“Many of my students have not traveled on an airplane. Most of my students have not traveled internationally. But they did say yes. And so our journey to Cuba began.”

The first year wasn’t easy by any means. There was fundraising out of the back of Prindle’s car, planning a trip to a “virtually unknown destination,” as well as the controversy that came with visiting Cuba, especially in relatively conservative upstate New York.

“But when we reached the top of the nature preserve in Lomas De Baño, it was all worth it.”

While Prindle is certainly a force, the trips simply wouldn’t be possible without fundraising and community sponsors. Over those five years, the travel groups have raised more than $80,000 to make international service a reality. Each trip takes 9-12 months of planning, along with study of the critical issues impacting the country, fundraising, community engagement and reflection upon return.

Bloomfield students speak incredibly highly of the travel program, noting how it opened their eyes to a world beyond their own and opened their hearts to empathy for people around the globe. One student described the service trip as “the most profound experience of my life,” while another said Prindle “has allowed me to recognize my passion and purpose in this world.” Multiple students have credited her for their college scholarships as well.

Of course, she has plenty of passion for travel herself, coming from a background of travel and tourism. Prindle began with a bachelor’s in hospitality and transitioned to education, so she recognizes service travel trips as meaningful and urgent.

“Travel is transformative. It gives us others’ eyes and builds bridges,” Prindle said. “When we travel, we replace the dots on the map with smiling faces. Travel is essential. But impact travel gives us even more. Impact travel is evocative—it makes us feel and awakens us. It illuminates our path with purpose and relevance.

“My students returned from our experiences forever changed. Open-minded, self-aware and with a unique perspective of shared humanity, their hearts are activated with loving compassion.”

These trips wouldn’t be possible without the destinations and the people living there, who have welcomed the Bloomfield students in with open arms. Prindle has expressed endless gratitude to the people of Cuba, Peru, and the Dominican Republic for allowing the students to enter their homes and have such a special, lifechanging experience.

Like many educators, Prindle and her IB CAS students plan to return to student travel in 2021. The students, the hosts, the counselor—everyone’s looking forward to it. Prindle truly believes in the power of student travel, especially when service is involved. She encourages students everywhere to travel however they can, because it’s a transformational experience for everyone involved.

“The world needs more travelers. It needs empathetic souls who unite through connections and the human condition. Let’s transform the next chapter of travel together, celebrating the beauty and complexity of the world through travel experiences. And let’s start with our youth.”