Barstow School senior with a giving heart says trip to Haiti changed her outlook on life

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- She's the editor of the yearbook, a member of the French Honor Society, and a National Merit semi-finalist.

But that's not all; this week's Reaching for Excellence young achiever was recently recognized as Kansas' Top Youth Volunteer of 2017 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Grace McGowan, 18, has a love for spreading love, as evidenced by her trips to foreign countries.

“When people go to Haiti, they go with a lot of expectations, they're going there to make those kids' lives better, and that they have so much to give to the kids whereas I think it reality, it's kind of flipped," she explained.

Flipped where the give is the true receiver. Grace's story dates back to the 8th grade when she traveled to Haiti -- one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.

“When I first went down, my very first orphanage that we went to, as soon as I stepped off the bus, a little girl just came up and hugged me," she recalled.

A little girl with what most people would say had nothing, had everything. Her love, laughter and peace caught Grace’s attention and changed her outlook on life.

“It's really the kids who make you feel like you've been given happiness or love or fulfillment," she said.

Deeply touched by the people of Haiti, she created her own non-profit benefiting Haitian orphans called “Geaux Haiti.”

“I've held one kind of big fundraiser since every year, and I've raised about $32,000 to date," she said.

About $8,000 of that figure was raised from a talent show she organized. All the money goes towards education, food and teacher training.

"Grace is a good example of one of my students who's probably naturally more intelligent than I am,” English teacher Jarrod Roark said.

Roark adds that Grace is one of a kind.

“I have a lot of respect for her, but it's not because of her natural intelligence, it's because of her drive, her compassion, she is very goal oriented, she's incredibly kind," he said.

As for Haiti, the Barstow School senior has been back to visit every summer -- four years running.

“Going on these trips has definitely changed my life," she said.

Grace plans to attend college and major in international relations. She'll learn where she's going in May.

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