This column is about Asian American volunteers – people who have a full-time day job, but still make time to give back to their community. These are the unsung everyday heroes. We want to highlight these Asian Americans who make life better for other people every day, but expect nothing back in return, except perhaps a smile.
This column will rotate to different parts of the country. In the Winter 2013 issue, we go to the San Francisco Bay Area. There, we meet four volunteers whose relentless efforts are making a difference in their local communities, in their own unique way, every day. Josephine Wong is the first of our four Winter 2013 Everyday Heroes.
As a child, Josephine Wong was told that a simple smile could bring happiness to others. So, she began smiling at classmates, teachers, and even strangers that she encountered in her daily life. That conscious effort to smile and to make a large or small impact in others’ lives has now continued well beyond the years when Josephine was a smiley, effervescent youngster.
Today, Josephine, who works as a systems engineer for Bill.com, volunteers two Sundays every month as a project leader with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN), a program at the Embarcadero YMCA in San Francisco. KEEN fosters the self-esteem, confidence, skills and talents of kids with autism through non-competitive recreational activities.
Josephine linked up with HandsOn Bay Area (HOBA), an organization that matches interested volunteers with a range projects in the Bay Area, when she realized she wanted to spend her spare time making a difference. Before she found her home at KEEN, she volunteered alongside her mother to make sandwiches at Glide Memorial Church in downtown San Francisco. She packed lunches for homeless people, and she served meals to the elderly.
Now, she finds that her time with the 30 KEEN kids has become one of her favorite ways of spending her weekends. A typical volunteer Sunday session for Josephine involves setting up stations for the kids, providing an orientation for the new volunteers, and pairing up the volunteers with the kids.
“I can take part in their recovery journeys… The opportunities to see them smile, acquire new skills, grow… and bond with each other… are absolutely priceless.”
Not only does this opportunity enable her to be part of the kids’ lives, but she also gets better acquainted with the families, many of whom are Asian Americans.
While Josephine is undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes in those children’s lives, she considers each and every one of them to be her hero. “They all live with an illness that no one in this world can say for sure where it has come from or how to prevent it. I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it can be to not be able to express my thoughts and feelings verbally.”
By giving back to the children and seeing their smiles, Josephine is reminded of the simple pleasures in life — the joy found in helping others. And, perhaps she’s getting her reward from all those smiles she shared in her youth.