Service to Others is the Rent You Pay for Your Time on Earth
Gabriela Santos (2008)

As you know, The Woods Academy is “an inclusive Catholic community preparing boys and girls to lead lives of significance." When I graduated from The Woods in 2008, this statement had not yet been adopted, however, it was clearly the school’s mission. Here is how I know. After my time at The Woods, I attended St. John’s College High School (2012), and now attend the University of South Carolina and graduated in May 2017. Since a young age, I have been fascinated by service and helping others. It was apparent early in school that this would be a passion that would grow with me into adulthood, but I never knew just how much it would grow. 

In college, I got involved with an organization called Dance Marathon (USCDM) which raises money for our local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. USCDM fundraises all year long. In the spring, they have a giant 14-hour, no-sitting, no sleeping event where they celebrate their hard work for the entire year, honor their Miracle Families, and reveal the final amount they’ve raised throughout the year. I participated in USCDM my sophomore year simply as a dancer and fell in love with it. I had to get more involved. 

In my junior year, I joined USCDM’s staff as part of the public relations committee. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with meningitis early on in the year and missed out on a lot of the planning and work of fall semester. That year (2015) we raised $501,528 for Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. Despite my absence for most of fall semester, I decided to apply to be the Director of Public Relations for my senior year. At the time, I thought that was where my road with Dance Marathon would end. I knew I was a few classes behind and would be graduating a bit late, but I figured I could take them in the summer and fall and graduate in December. Little did I know, this would not be my last go-around with Children’s Hospitals or USCDM. Just before our event in the spring, I had been offered an internship with Children’s National Health System, here in Washington, DC. I had the opportunity to come home and do what I loved for a bit longer. However, if I took this position, I could no longer graduate in December. I found myself in a bit of a pickle and decided to think about it for a while longer.

Just before we revealed our 2016 total, a girl I barely knew on another committee approached me and told me I had been her inspiration the entire year. She admired my hardworking attitude from afar and told me I motivated her to push her limits and exceed her potential. I was living a life of significance that affected someone else without even knowing it. That year (2016) we raised $527,810 for Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. In that moment, I decided I was going to take the internship, stay at USC for an entire fifth year, and apply to be President of USCDM for 2017. 

I was chosen to serve as USCDM’s president for 2017 – an honor and privilege I’ll never forget. We set a lofty goal of raising $700,000 in 2017. When we announced this goal, people were worried we couldn’t make that big of a jump. That’s a lot of money…from where are we going to get it? I told our staff that if your goals don’t scare you a little bit and excite you a lot, then they aren’t big enough. We raised $703,289 for Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, and I personally raised $7,171 – something I never thought possible for myself. Not only was this the highest USCDM had ever raised, but it was also a $175,479 increase from the previous year — an increase that at one point seemed impossible. 

Reaching and exceeding that $700,000 goal was a challenge and an incredibly rewarding experience. I truly believe that service to others is the rent you pay for your time on Earth – and I’m glad that I could serve my community in this way. I hope to stay working with non-profits after I graduate from USC. After all, I believe you’re born with two hands — one to help yourself, and one to help others.