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On her walk to work, she learned to maneuver between patches of shade in the 95-degree heat, even if it led her out of her way.She took advantage of the cold drinks that were sold on most every corner, often packaged in plastic bags rather than expensive bottles.“You’re never going to get things done.” Now Las Tías visitors are greeted by cheerful colors and a sunny mural made from discarded chip bags, bottle caps and plastic straws. Three generations lived in her house, and each night her 6-year-old granddaughter brought out a parade of toys and dances to try to make Barton laugh.When Barton went with the family to church, she was honored when her host mom introduced her as “my new daughter.” The low, concrete-block house with a corrugated plastic roof had fewer amenities than her original lodgings—no car, no washing machine, no hot water—yet Barton was much happier, and glad she finally spoke up.At Las Tías, the after-school program in León where she worked five days a week helping adolescents with homework and teaching English, she worried that her imperfect Spanish would hurt her credibility with the students, some of whom were only a year younger than she was. Back in Hailey, Idaho, the tall brunette with the shy smile and indirect gaze had been an excellent high school student, an accomplished ballet dancer—and a master of avoiding intimidating situations. Barton came up with what she thought were great proposals for things she could do for Las Tías, but the organization’s leaders had other ideas. Barton understood why: Las Tías could use the cash to buy supplies for their cosmetology classes, or a computer for the office.But under the rules of the program, the money had to go toward something sustainable, so supplies didn’t count.
Then it was up to Barton to call stores for the materials and organize the volunteer painters—a thousand interactions that would normally terrify her. “There is no use being embarrassed,” Barton said of the experience. For months she didn’t feel comfortable, and avoided going home each night. Her new host mom was a grandmother, a soft-spoken minister.“More than making change, I feel like I’ve just learned how you make change—what works, what doesn’t, how different people approach it.” Barton’s fellowship may have begun with frustrations and doubt, but that melted away as the weeks passed.Her Spanish improved to the point where she could haggle with cab drivers like a local.The 1 4 fellows received university support throughout their gap year, from an on-campus orientation prior to leaving to regular check-ins during the year with staffers at the Tisch College of Civic Life, which sponsors the program, to a retreat at Tufts after returning home in May.The goal of it all: a transformational year of learning about themselves, their passions and their place in the world.