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My Service to the APIA Community

May 30, 2012

Ken first shared this story in a similar blog post on March 12, 2012 as part of the Turning Point series on the Points of Light blog.

According to the findings of the United States Department of Labor’s 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20% of the Asian American population had volunteered in the past year. That’s a huge lack of service leaders in representation for Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) population, which makes up 5.6% of the total US population, according to the 2010 Census. It’s great to see other Alums, like Anita Yip, be dedicated to the APIA community as part of their Lifetime of Service, which is something I constantly strive for.

As an Asian American who served in AmeriCorps Alums, I didn’t quite understand the value of my service, until one fateful encounter with a student named “Tommy”.

Rewind a bit to September 2010, when I signed up for a National Direct AmeriCorps position with the Get HandsOn Campaign. Not really knowing what I was going to get myself into, I, like most recent college graduates in our economy, took one of the first opportunities offered to me. I completed my undergraduate degree in June 2010 moving across the country with my friends sounded like a great opportunity for a fresh start into the real world.

During my AmeriCorps term, as a way to fulfill my 1,700 hours, I served with one of my peer AmeriCorps members with the school-based Discovery tutoring program through HandsOn Atlanta. Since I was in a National Direct program, I didn’t have the prior chance to serve locally, so it was nice to get out of the office once every two weeks and serve in my community. Meeting the students that were part of the program helped me realize that my service could mean something bigger than myself.

The elementary school that changed my perspective on service.

The elementary school I served at was incredibly diverse, with students representing more than 35 countries. Most of the student body was made up of South Asian refugees, as this county of metro-Atlanta has a huge refugee population. On my first Saturday at the program, I immediately got stares by most of the students, as I looked a lot like most of them.

With a majority black/ white dichotomy in the school faculty, most of the students had never seen an Asian-American, let alone one that was older than their elementary peers.

One student, a 1st generation Vietnamese student with an adorable bowl cut, named “Tommy”, stared at me for a bit, before coming up and saying, “You look like the same language as me!” Though technically incorrect, that quote has stayed with me since, as I realized the impact of my service as an Asian American in AmeriCorps and working directly in a minority population. In his eyes, I was a visible representation of what “Tommy” could grow up to be.

Volunteering at that school twice a month throughout my service year helped lay the foundation for the type of work that I want to continue on as an AmeriCorps Alum. As a person of color born in the U.S., I want to help be a role model for younger generations as they are learning to find their place in our national community. I want to keep service an integral part of my life because at every step I want to be able to be an example to the “Tommys” across the country that they can keep pushing forward and be successful when the odds seem difficult. I want future generations to see how “AmeriCorps Works” in my life and continues to shape the intentions behind my actions.

Being a part of the APIA community is integral to my life experiences and I hope that many more in their own physical and local communities will use their time, skills, and talents for service to our country.

Why do you continue to serve in your community?

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