Isabella Wang says volunteering wasn’t originally her idea. “Begrudgingly” volunteering at the insistence of her parents, the Bellevue, Washington student says she was shy as a child, and didn’t fit in as the outspoken, stereotypical leader.
Breaking stereotypes for traditional volunteerism and cultivating leaders of all kinds, 16-year-old Isabella now serves as vice president of Bellevue Youth Link, an organization dedicated to help youth create and lead service opportunities, and is also the founder of Leaders of Today Northwest, one of the many action teams developed through Youth Link. Reinvigorating and amplifying the voices of all social sectors through youth leadership, Isabella has connected with hundreds in her community as she redefines service and promotes youth-led engagement.
What inspires you to volunteer?
My peers are really self-motivated. I work so closely with my community, and to see everyone put in time and effort inspires me to keep volunteering, year after year.
How do you describe your volunteerism evolution?
My volunteerism isn’t glorious or magnificent, but it’s representative of how many kids start off. Youth don’t take one path in identifying how to represent their community. I started off a little hesitant, but throughout my five years of volunteerism, I’ve become really inspired by my peers.
Describe your volunteerism with Bellevue Youth Link.
As vice president of Bellevue Youth Link, I help organize community events across greater Bellevue for our primarily youth volunteers. Students can choose to create their own action teams through Youth Link, and we support them in whatever mission they are trying to pursue, whether that’s coat or food drives, or sending meal kits to local homeless shelters. My action team is called Leaders of Today Northwest, and we try to cultivate leaders of all kinds, not just the one outspoken stereotype of what a leader should be. We hold community events that re-introduce certain sectors of community back into Bellevue. For example, in 2019, we saw that the senior population was isolated from our community and lacked contact to youth, so we held events to get youth and seniors connected.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
For our Kids Care Coat Drive, we receive hundreds of donated coats which we then organize and distribute to families. It’s really exciting to help families shop for coats they want, and to see adults and kids get badly needed coats, boots and gloves for the colder months. Every time you help a little kid find the coat they’re looking for, their face lights up. That experience on a whole is really impactful.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
If people are privileged enough to volunteer and they have the time, energy and effort to give back to their community, it’s imperative they do so. Volunteering is like giving back what you yourself have received.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
It’s rewarding seeing how happy the events we hold make other people. I am really thankful to have resources, to be able to support my peers, and that we are making a community impact.
How have you continued to volunteer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Because of the intense impact the pandemic had on society in general, we thought it was important for youth to reconnect with themselves and focus on youth identity. We launched the 2021 Leaders of Today Northwest Competition, and are encouraging youth all over the world to submit ideas for change that they’re passionate about. Selected youth will then work with adult mentors, who range from the CEO of a community-orientated non-profit to an MIT Professor, to help realize these changes across issues like civic engagement, community engagement, and technology and innovation.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Whatever idea you have, don’t be scared to tell someone about it. In the beginning, I was really scared to talk to people about my ideas because I was scared of judgement and criticism, but that input will only strengthen your ideas.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
When you’re not busy volunteering or in school, what do you do for fun?
I love drawing. I have also painted a couple of murals. Anything related to visual art is fun.
How can readers help?
Our Leaders of Today Northwest Competition is open to students anywhere grades 6-12, and closes on April 17, 2021. Please find more information and enter the competition here or email us for more information: [email protected].
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Isabella Wang? Find local volunteer opportunities.