What Did You Do This Summer?

by Liu Zhen Huang

Today's guest post is written by Liu Zhen Huang, 18, a senior at Baruch College Campus High School in New York City. As an active member of the generationOn National Youth Advisory Council, she recently presented a workshop entitled, "Let Us Lead: Engaging Youth In Your Organization" at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service. She works in her local community to create opportunities for students to get involved in volunteering such as partnering with local parks to get teens volunteering outside. This year at her school she plans to start a club with her friends called the Students' League to unite students through community service projects.

"Every year when summer comes around, I go a bit overboard with my freedom.  All I can think of is sleeping late, hanging out with friends, or keeping up with the next new hit song or the next new episode of a reality show. But unlike any summer before, this year I stopped to ask myself, "What will I do this summer that makes myself most proud?"  This summer, I completed at least four hours of required community service, read four decent books, and wrote my college essay; a list of things that fulfills my school's requirements. But that wasn't it. It seems like what's really different about this summer is that I also discovered an innovation, making this summer go beyond my school's expectations.

As a member of the generationOn Youth Advisory Council, I began my summer at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New Orleans. There, I helped host the Youth Champions of Change summit which brought together local elementary school students to conduct a service project and brainstorm plans to make a difference in their communities.  I also presented a workshop at the conference called "Let Us Lead: Engaging Youth in Your Organization" along with two members from Bank of America's Student Leaders' Program, and my fellow Youth Advisory Council member, Rachel Shuster. This workshop included information about identifying youth leaders, why it is important for different organizations to have young leaders, how to recruit these leaders, and how to sustain them in an organization  I also outlined the positive benefits of engagement in service on youth development. Overall, the workshop was very successful, and inspired me to consider how I was going to use these lessons during the rest of the summer.

That's when I got innovative and decided that I wanted to teach English to Chinese immigrants in my community.  With a friend of mine, we applied for a grant through the organization DoSomething to support this project.  At first I was very reluctant to apply for this grant (I had never written something like this before) so I procrastinated.  Then, once we applied and the announcement day came and went with no news, I became concerned. I knew that if I didn't take the initiative, I would never know the results and I wouldn't be doing anything significant in this summer.  I got anxious and I emailed the organization, and learned that our project had been selected!

To make this project successful, I purchased bilingual books online, and donated my own Chinese-English dictionaries to the church where we would meet with new immigrants to work on their English.  To recruit youth, I created an ongoing event on Facebook that runs from August to September.  One of our long term goals is to sustain and prolong the classes.

Although summers for me have always been about having fun, this summer I felt that I have done something more than just what school required - something out of ordinary but not extraordinary.  Overall, after reflecting on my summer, I wish that I could have devoted even more time to promoting this project of teaching Chinese immigrants English. I hope that my connection will grow wider so that I can recruit more youth to be actively engaged in their community, and I wish that my innovations will never die out.  All in all, I think life is all about taking risks, encountering obstacles, making mistakes, and finding improvements and solutions to problems.  I might not have been the best problem solver among many youth my age, but I believe that I have given a shot, and I am satisfied with the outcome of my summer this year."