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Inspired in Africa: Minnetonka Teen Says Volunteer Work Changed Her Life

Student Spotlight: Laura Bernard earned the Presidential Service Award after her work in Africa.

Laura Bernard’s adventurous spirit and heart for helping others led her to Africa.

The senior spent six weeks last summer in Sierra Leone on a mission trip. Despite the area’s wealth of minerals, including diamonds, over 70 percent of its people live in poverty.

“It was an eye-opening experience I will never forget,” Bernard said. “I was surprised at how hospitable and welcoming the African people were towards a bunch of American teens. They are very generous people.”

Those who touched Bernard’s heart the most were children, many of whom she met while working in a local orphanage.   

Bernard recalls visiting a small African village where local children gave her group a tour. 

“They showed us the red flowers on one of their trees and we told them how pretty they were,” said Bernard. “Before we could stop them, they jumped up and pulled one of the big branches off and gave us the flowers.”

Bernard was impressed with the children’s resourcefulness. “Some of them could have run a house a lot better than most teens here,” she said.

Bernard’s service work earned her the prestigious Presidential Volunteer Service Gold Award. The award recognizes volunteers who demonstrate a high level of commitment that inspires others to serve.

Staying in a foreign country with a history of civil unrest didn’t scare Bernard, who describes herself as “adventurous.”

What does frighten her?

“I can be a big baby when it comes to scary movies,” Bernard said. She admits to being “terrified” of the movie E.T. “I think it’s the way his neck oddly stretches up. And his scream is the worst,” she said.

Now back in the U.S., Bernard continues to serve others through Student Venture, a ministry for high school students. The group meets weekly to talk, worship and do service work. 

“Right now we’re working on Operation Christmas Child boxes,” she said. The teens will package and send shoes boxes filled with gifts to needy children around the world.

Student Venture leader Joan von Edeskuty has been a valuable mentor to Bernard. 

“She is like a second grandma to me,” said Bernard.

Bernard’s favorite classes at Minnetonka High School are fashion merchandising and psychology. Her fashion merchandising skills come in handy at her part-time job at Express clothing store.

While she enjoys fashion, Bernard doesn’t take clothing trends too seriously. “I think people should wear whatever they like and are comfortable in and not just what everyone else is wearing,” she said.

After graduation, Bernard will attend college. She is applying to four schools, with her top choice being Biola University in southern California.   

While visiting Biola in October, Bernard found she liked the campus and the courses it offers. “Plus, it’s only 20 minutes from the beach,” noted Bernard, whose favorite summer activity is being on the lake.

Bernard plans to major in elementary education or public relations. She may turn her interest in working with kids into a teaching career one day. “I’d like to teach first grade,” she said.

Though she’s going away to college, Bernard plans to stay close with her family, including parents Doug and Nicki Bernard.

“My family is crazy, loving and always supportive of me,” she said.

Nicki Bernard summed up her daughter’s personality this way: “Laura loves people, loves kids and loves life.”

Bernard plans to continue serving as a volunteer after high school. She commented, “It’s important to share the blessings we’ve been given with those who don’t have all that we have.”

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