SULLIVAN’S ISLAND — Abi Thompson has been involved with community service since she was old enough to pick up a hammer.
Her mom, Ann Thompson, is the youth leader at Stella Maris Church, so participating in youth activities was a regular part of family life.
“It was just fun for me then, it was like, ‘Oh, I get to hang out with my older brothers and sister and we get to play with other people and have fun,’ ” Abi said. “Around like eighth grade, and in high school, I realized I was changing lives doing my community service.”
It certainly changed her life.
A senior at Bishop England High School, Abi received a partial academic scholarship to Presbyterian College in Clinton. Good grades were a factor, but the page-long list of service projects also helped.
As Abi pointed out, the motto of Presbyterian College is “While We Live, We Serve,” which is right up her alley. In fact, it was when she started filling out scholarship applications for various universities that she noticed all of them asked about community service, and she realized how important it is to society, she said.
“If you have a lot of community service and you’re willing to help others it’s really looked upon,” she said.
She never received any special attention for it until recently, when she started earning awards. The most recent was the 2009 Prudential Spirit of Community Award. She has also received a President’s Volunteer Service Award and numerous others.
“My mom and I laugh about it now because I never did it to get into college or anything,” she said.
Outgoing and full of laughter, the 18-year-old said her parents want her to get a summer job, so she’s looking for something that will be outside and around a bunch of people. Her dream job would be working with the Charleston Battery soccer program, which is also right up her alley.
Abi said she has been playing soccer since she was old enough to walk, and described it as one of her biggest passions. She plays year-round, flowing from a club team to her high school team, where she has been captain for the past three years.
When Abi starts talking soccer, it’s all she can do to stay in her chair. Her eyes light up and she grins happily as she describes being part of the Battling Bishops and their quest for an eighth-straight state championship.
The games are cutthroat, she said, but afterward it’s hugs and good sportsmanship. Hopefully it will be the same at the college level, where she has committed to play midfield.
Abi was recruited by several colleges for soccer, but wanted to attend a Christian school where prayer would be an important part of games and school life in general.
Having grown up in Stella Maris Church, religion is a central part of who she is.
“It’s so cool to see how your faith interacts with all your passions,” Abi said. “With community service you have to have a lot of faith or some of the projects are unbearable.”
Even though she’s a people person, being around a big group can take its toll, she explained. So can cafeteria food, sleeping on floors and cold showers. But even as she’s ticking off the discomforts, Abi is laughing.
“There’s never been a time I didn’t have an awesome time,” she said. “All the kids there have the same goal: to help and find God in everyone we work with.”
Of all her charity work, Home Works of America is her favorite. Abi’s last trip with them was the most powerful, she said. It was one of the last she would take with her youth group, where she has her best friends, and she was looking for something special.
“I really wanted God to enter my life, before I went to college, in a really powerful way, because college is going to be hard,” she said.
On that building trip, Abi met a woman whom she described as incredibly strong. Everything that could go wrong in life had gone wrong for the woman, but she never lost faith.
“I left away going, ‘OK, I can get through anything now. Nothing can tear me down as long as I keep strong in my faith and God,’ ” Abi said.
Mrs. Thompson said all of their mission trips have been in the United States, because there is so much to do here. Next up is a trip to Veracruz, N.C.
Abi said she would like to take a trip out of the country, and the first place she wants to go is Costa Rica. Not only are there plenty of people in need, but she would also be able to surf the republic’s famous waves.
Surfing is another family passion, and Abi and her mom are both bronzed from a recent trip to Jekyll Island. Like soccer, and roofing, Abi took to surfing at an early age.
She was only 7 when her older brothers took her out in the middle of a hurricane. The waves were so powerful, they had to tow her past the breakers, Abi said.
“It was terrifying. I learned out of fear.” She laughed at the memory.
“I crashed and burned a few times, but I wasn’t giving up because that would have been so uncool,” she said.
Family, friends, soccer, surfing, school, and the many charities she helps are hard to balance sometimes, Abi said, but her mom helps her keep it scheduled.
Service doesn’t have to be a week long, or even weekend-long event, she noted. Sometimes it’s just a few hours to help someone from church.
“I really wish more teenagers would do it because it is amazing. Lives would be changed,” Abi said. “If all of America could do it we’d be so happy. I think people would really understand what it’s like not to have anything, and find out what’s really important.”
For Abi, what’s important is simple: family and God.
She’s happiest, she says, when she “can go to the beach and just sit there and go, ‘OK, I don’t have this, but I don’t really need that.’ I have a family. I have a home — food! I mean, some kids are out there who don’t have shoes, and I have Rainbows.”
Community service has given her so much, Abi said. It has kept her balanced and taught her how many wonderful people are in the world.
“We’re very proud of her,” said Winnie Van Meir, church secretary. “She’s a good girl. She’s done some wonderful stuff.”
Abi hopes to do more wonderful stuff, like possibly playing professional soccer and having a career as a physical therapist on a sports team.
For now, she wants to spend lots of time with her family, and when she arrives at college in a few short months, the first thing she wants to do is find a top-notch church where she can be comfortable.
“It’s really important to have a connection with God,” Abi said. “People with nothing are happy if they have God, have faith.”