A journey of growth and impact: “Where are they now?” with Parker Willis
The beginning: A teenage Parker’s first Build
Parker’s journey with LiveDifferent began in the summer of 2011. At 14, Parker joined a Build in the Dominican Republic alongside his mother, longtime LiveDifferent employee and supporter Alison Willis. What was intended as a bonding trip turned into a life-altering experience. This initial exposure to LiveDifferent’s work ignited a passion in Parker, leading to a lasting involvement with the organization.
The path to Academy Coordinator
Following the first Build, Parker returned to the Dominican Republic in 2012 with friends and, after graduating from high school in 2014, participated in the LiveDifferent Academy Program in Mexico. The summer after the Academy program, Parker experienced a leadership role as an intern in the Dominican Republic, significantly influenced by the late Benjamin Cole Brown’s teachings and leadership style.
These experiences raised profound questions about global inequality and poverty for Parker, guiding him towards an International Development degree at York University, with a focus on Latin American studies, global economics, and world cultures, complemented by a master’s certificate from Humber College.
In the 2022-23 school year, Parker volunteered at the Deninu School in the Northwest Territories, enriching his understanding of Indigenous cultures and affirming his commitment to community service.
Parker facilitated the collaboration between LiveDifferent’s Road Teams and schools in the Northwest Territories, helping to bring the Circles mental wellness programming to Indigenous youth. This initiative provided a platform for students to engage in meaningful dialogues while highlighting the transformative power of volunteering.
When asked what stands out to him about LiveDifferent, he said, “The emphasis on human connection and meaningful relationships. The idea of being an individual is an important part of personal development and is extremely enticing to young people, but there is more to life than that. I’d say that’s one of the main lessons LiveDifferent has taught me. Without meaningful connection, an individual is all that we would be limited to and that can be a dark place to be.”
Returning to lead
Parker’s personal experience as a former Academy student inspired him to take on the role of Academy Coordinator in September 2023. He was driven by the opportunity to influence change within the communities LiveDifferent serves and to mentor youth seeking new adventures and learnings.
“The opportunity to help shape young minds and help students grow into the people they want to become is not something I take lightly.”
Through his volunteering experiences, Parker has developed a deep appreciation for humanity’s collective existence and the importance of simplicity in life. Embracing differences, authenticity, and integrity have become key tenets in his life.
Advice to youth
Parker’s advice to young adults considering a gap year or volunteer work is unequivocal: embrace the opportunity. He emphasizes that the journey of self-discovery and growth is challenging but immensely rewarding. He encourages young people to take their time in understanding themselves and the world, as these experiences are invaluable. He says, “If you truly wanted to discover yourself, it is going to take time and effort, it won’t be easy, it will challenge you, but it is so, so worth it.”
Are you considering taking a gap semester or know something who is? Get involved with LiveDifferent! Learn more about our Academy Program.