The core motivation for Angela Zhong’s volunteerism was to prove that when given the chance, youth can achieve a lot more than adults expect them to. The seventeen-year-old has proven that point herself, by leading thousands of teens across her Houston area through two different volunteer organizations.
Since entering high school, Angela has been an active volunteer with Interact District 5890, a youth-based service club under the international service nonprofit Rotary International. This past year, Angela served as Interact District 5890’s Governor, leading over 4,000 teens and 90 clubs in the Houston area to complete numerous service projects. She also led Interact in a partnership with NewGen Peacebuilders, a peace educating program for young people. Angela helped organize a peace summit between the two organizations for about 200 attendees.
From there, Angela became involved as a Student Ambassador for NewGen, continuing to help organize and participate in a semester-long peace summit where students actively implemented their own peace projects. She is also currently serving as NewGen’s summer intern. In the fall, Angela will be attending Harvard University, where she plans on continuing her involvement with social impact organizations.
Describe your volunteer role with Interact District 5890.
Interact District 5890 is the youth version of Rotary International. It passes through the greater Houston area and has around 4,000 members and 90 clubs. I was District Governor last year. My main job was to organize a lot of different social or volunteering events where members of different clubs could come together and meet with each other, as well as different peace-building activities, which is how I got involved with NewGen Peacebuilders at the very beginning. It was a great year and I really enjoyed being able to help my community.
Why did you want to become involved with Interact?
I joined the club when I was a high school freshman, sort of just to do some service work. Then I ran for club-wise positions and then [became] Communications Officer and then District Governor after that. I really enjoyed it. There have been different camps for leadership that I’ve been able to go to that they sponsor. They do a lot of great work within the community so I wanted to see how I could help them and maybe streamline some of their efforts, so we can do the most good with the least amount of resources.
What kinds of social and volunteer events did you organize?
I did some organizing with Project Linus for blankets in the Medical Center of Houston. Also, I worked with the Soles4Souls Foundation to donate shoes. We’ve also collaborated with Kids Meals to donate packaged meals for families who may not have a consistent source of food during the summers when schools are out. Those are the smaller projects we worked on. Then [we organized] different conferences. The main one we did was with New Gen. I helped organize a peace conference for around 200 attendees to come on a full scholarship.
Describe your volunteer role as a student ambassador for NewGen Peacebuilders.
The peace conference was a two-day-long summit in February 2019. In 2019, we basically got some professionals who were well versed on peace literature and helped teach students about the different types of violence that inflict our community — such as structural, institutional, cultural and direct violence — and helped them and mentored them in brainstorming different peace projects that they could do to address these societal concerns. In the fall, I also helped organize and participated myself in a semester-long summit where we actually implemented our idea or did the research, depending on the different people’s peace projects. That was a more of a longterm and concentrated agenda. I was really happy to be able to help in both and attend some of the conferences they presented it at.
The [peace project] that I was working on was researching Houston-area youth and how they feel about peace, as well as collaborating with different Interact clubs through my tenure as District Governor to see if any of them would be interested in partnering with NewGen in the future to establish more peace-related curriculum. I’m currently still working on that as an intern in the summer with NewGen where I’m still doing more research. Given the coronavirus, that might change what the platform looks like and moving it online.
What about NewGen made you want to get involved with the organization beyond just their partnership with Interact?
I think the thesis of NewGen is that youth of all ages should also be an active peace builder in the way that maybe adults are generally deemed. Their voices should be amplified and they also should have a say in making decisions that effect them. I thought that was something that resonated with me, and that I wanted to help others amplify their voices as well, so that’s why I joined.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Even though I don’t get to see the reactions of people whenever they receive household necessities or blankets or what not, I think knowing I was able to direct funds towards people in need or towards important issues was definitely something I treasured about my time [with Interact].
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I definitely think that sometimes the things that people try to do may not actually be the most helpful, in the sense that I think there’s a lot of energy and focus around youth creating their own startups, but sometimes it’s actually better to collaborate with a preexisting one so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. That’s something that I didn’t really think about at first and I see happening quite a lot. That’s not to say that youth shouldn’t do their own startups, because there definitely are still areas of need that need to be fulfilled, but I do think that we should prioritize more collaboration rather than competition within these sectors. I think that would be really helpful in making a bigger impact.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think it’s super important because a lot of the privileges we have are sort of arbitrary, in the sense that I’m lucky to be where I am today just because I was born into a family where I could afford basic necessities and things like that, whereas other people may not be in those positions. Because these things are incredibly arbitrary, there really is no justification for me to not help if I have the capacity to do so. Obviously if I needed help myself, I wouldn’t tell everyone you have to always been volunteering with others, but if you are in a position where you can do good, I think you should.
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