Distant travel isn't necessary for horizon-expanding experiences. Just ask Longboat Key residents Kathy Pesce and Mary Dent, who created the volunteer travel company Soul Sister Travels and kickstarted their sightseeing at Zota Beach Resort.
Pesce and Dent, a travel industry veteran and nonprofit collaborator respectively, have been plotting the launch of Soul Sister Travels for a few years after they discovered they wanted to put their life skills and love of travel into one. The idea is that people who sign up for trips will not only see a new place, but they’ll also have new experiences via local volunteering and a wellness component with the trip. Pesce has taken such trips before and wanted to make the concept more accessible.
“Basically, we’re curating volunteer travel opportunities for those seeking adventures from the heart,” Pesce said. “Each volunteer opportunity will consist of some local experience, and we’ll also add a self-care component on to really nurture your own wellbeing and kind of enhance the overall experience. We just feel the two go hand-in-hand.”
The women organized a two-hour event at Zota in January as their first trip. It drew a few Longboat women, as well as four who flew in for the event. The wellness theme was “Rise and Shine” and the volunteer organization was In the Pink, a Sarasota organization that provides cancer patients with everything they need throughout treatment.
“We did some meditation, and we did have the director of In the Pink on and people really wanted more,” Pesce said. “We actually ran over two hours. Nobody wanted to leave. It was really exciting.”
After the success of the first event, there was another one at Zota in May. Pesce and Dent are planning a third in November featuring yoga. For the volunteer portion, they’re looking into partnering with Habitat for Humanity. They already have a list of attendees, most of whom are out-of-state.
“It's pretty cool to see people want to travel from outside their own home or their state and want to go doing good in somebody else's,” Pesce said. “They’re so excited for an entire weekend, because that gives you the time to do some really substantial hours of volunteering, and also the wellness part of it. They'll definitely be able to take it all in and feel all the effects of it.”
They’re also working on a trip to the Smoky Mountains over the summer, where guests will volunteer in the national park. Next is a trip to Kenya and volunteering in the Kibera slum. Volunteer programs there include reaching out to children and teaching them useful life skills.
“We definitely want to keep local, easily obtainable trips, and also ones that go beyond that that people are ready for,” Pesce said. “Our mission really is just to make volunteer travel obtainable to everyone, whether it's in our back yard or beyond. Not everybody's comfortable going to Africa or even going to the Smoky Mountains.”
Pesce has found that there’s interest within Sarasota to volunteer with animals, too. Right now, the company is trying to find types of trips that interest plenty of people. Making volunteer travel available to everybody is their goal, so things with varying price points and timeframes are important.
“It's reaching out to everybody's different passions, and making them just exposed to not only their passion, but also some sort of wellness component on top of the trip,” Pesce said. “There's so many times that people have said, ‘How do you do this, how do you even start, where do you go, and can I afford to do this?’ You just have to find the right one that fits you.”