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Meet Heather Newgen of The Voluntourist in Studio City

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heather Newgen.

Heather, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
For the last 12 years, I’ve worked as an entertainment reporter in LA interviewing the industry’s top talent. It’s been fun and exciting, but also a struggle to fit in because my life wasn’t always so glam. At 14, I went to live with my grandparents, and while they provided a home, they weren’t able to offer guidance and encouragement. I had no direction, career goals or aspirations.

However, a work colleague inspired me to attend our local community college and there I met an amazing English professor who took an interest in me. She saw my potential and pushed me to succeed. The hard work paid off! I got accepted to USC and majored in broadcast journalism, but had to work harder than most there to make it.

I worked two jobs, interned and took care of my grandma while taking a full course load. It wasn’t easy but I did it. I went from nothing to interviewing Hollywood A-list stars because someone believed in me.

I will always be grateful, and one way I express my gratitude is volunteering. I want to give back to others the way people gave to me.

So in 2008, I volunteered abroad for the first time. I went to Morocco and it was a wonderful experience. Although I knew I wasn’t going to save the world, I did feel like I made a positive small impact. The following year I went to India to work with street children and quickly realized not all voluntourism organizations are ethical.

I unknowingly signed up with a shady company and left the program shortly after like many others did. I was frustrated to see a volunteer organization intentionally mislead volunteers and place them in unsafe situations.

I came out of the situation all right, other than losing all the money I spent, but I vowed never to let anyone else experience what I did, and that’s how the idea of “The Voluntourist” was born.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
No, this hasn’t been an easy task for me to take on by myself. It’s challenging not having a staff, financial backing and working a full-time job while trying to launch a business. However, I’ve learned so much about being an entrepreneur throughout this process. I’m actually happy The Voluntourist is growing now because I feel I have the insight, knowledge and skill set to effectively help make it succeed, whereas before I didn’t.

The Voluntourist – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The Voluntourist promotes responsible voluntourism and provides the knowledge, motivation and inspiration to anyone who wants to make a difference close to home, or while falling in love with another corner of the world. My goal is to be the leading source of information for people who want to volunteer and travel, and to help them determine which programs are safe, professional, affordable and right for them, while educating others on how to avoid the unethical pitfalls of voluntourism.

Most organizations don’t allow you to see where a volunteer will be working, what your accommodations will be like, or who the program manager/host family is. This is essential information every volunteer should know. The Voluntourist shows people these details with revealing and forthcoming videos, interviews and photos.

In addition, I’m excited to let volunteers know how to immerse themselves in a new culture, and I give recommendations on must see places in the area on their downtime from volunteering.

I’m very proud to help others understand how crucial it is to only sign up for projects they’re qualified for, to not give back for the wrong reasons, and to recognize the red flags of dishonest voluntourism companies. Volunteering while traveling can be a really positive outcome, but only when done correctly.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moments are when people tell me they’re inspired by my story and how I’ve helped motivate them to give back to others.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Carolyn Eastman

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Parton

    January 10, 2018 at 08:56

    Heather is an amazing person! Definitely an inspiring story!! I am the manager of Icelandic singer Juilia Arna and I know vouluntourism would be a great endeavor in her country! Can’t wait to see what Heather does next! JuliaArnaOfficial definitely supports this champion on her journey!

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