Meet Daily Point of Light honoree Abby Yoon. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
During the summer before Abby Yoon began high school, she began looking for opportunities to give back to her Greenville, N.C. community as a way to pay forward everything she felt her community had done for her. She ultimately decided to volunteer with Love a Sea Turtle, a marine and ocean conservation awareness nonprofit that encourages students to become leaders and engage in environmental stewardship through several year-round service projects. Now 16, Abby is the student leader for the organization’s Greenville Community Garden, which distributes healthy produce to local families in need, as well as promote nutrition education. Throughout the years, the Community Garden has donated to nearly 400 families in the area.
In addition to helping to run the garden, Abby also developed one of Love a Sea Turtle’s programs — Holidays for Hope, which collects canned goods for families in need. Aside from the programs she leads, Abby also participates in the nonprofit’s other volunteer-led programs, which range from creating art through recycled materials to donating free bikes to local youth in order to promote healthy lifestyles.
Describe your volunteer role with Love a Sea Turtle.
Love a Sea Turtle is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to marine conservation awareness as well as youth leadership development. I regularly serve as a volunteer and a youth leader. Because I lead the Community Garden that Love a Sea Turtle has adopted, I work with other [Love a Sea Turtle] officers. I work with their directors and their youth to plan and organize programs together.
What do you do for the Community Garden?
Three years ago in 2017, Love a Sea Turtle adopted the Greenville Community Garden. I recognized its potential to serve as a medium for nutrition education and also to distribute healthy produce to families in need. I offered to serve as their student youth leader and now the Community Garden regularly donates healthy produce to local families in need. It also serves as a place where the community can gather together and engage in service.
Why is it important for low-income families in your community to have a source of fresh produce and healthy food?
Typically around this area, there’s a variety and abundance of food, but it’s not necessarily always healthy food. In low-income areas, typically they have access to all the food that’s available in markets, but usually the healthy, nutritious foods are inaccessible to them because they don’t have the financial means to buy vegetables or foods that actually have nutritional value. Issues like hunger and malnutrition continue to be perpetuated because they aren’t properly nourished. I thought it was important to open up access to healthy produce and nutritional foods so we could tackle hunger by preventing poor nutrition in families.
Can you describe Holidays for Hope?
Six months into joining Love a Sea Turtle, I recognized issues that were reality for low-income families. Among those issues, I found that food insecurity was very common not only in my county, but also worldwide. I decided to adopt a program that Love a Sea Turtle was leading then. The program was called ‘Joy Maker’ and it was a gift exchange event that Love a Sea Turtle was leading. I spoke with the directors and offered to reinvent it into Holidays for Hope, which then was a year-end reflection event for Love a Sea Turtle as well as a food drive. Guests and Love a Sea Turtle families attended the events, donated to Love a Sea Turtle and also collected canned goods. Since then, Holidays for Hope has grown.
Why did you want to get involved in this organization?
Before high school had started, I was really looking to give back to my community. As I was growing up, I benefited greatly from my community, whether it was my church or my school, so I felt compelled to give back. I thought that Love a Sea Turtle offered great opportunities to volunteer in my community.
As I volunteer with Love a Sea Turtle, I find that much of the environmental issues we hear about — whether it’s in the news, media or at school — are known, but rarely do we take action to help mitigate environmental problems that are prevalent and relevant right now. Love a Sea Turtle I found took that action by utilizing their resources and also youth in the community, and engaging them in service and environmental stewardship.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
With the Community Garden, we have a tasting or food demonstration at our garden. During that day, we are also going to help plant and harvest some vegetables that we are growing at the garden. Once volunteers arrive at the work day, together we’re going to help grow the vegetables. Afterwards, my partners and I are going to hold a food demonstration and allow our volunteers to pick vegetables and see how they can apply kitchen skills to vegetables at home as well. We usually host these events monthly.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
When I first began with Holidays of Hope, I had the opportunity to transport the food and canned goods that I had collected from my community to a local community development center. After school one day, I had gone to the community development center and we met some of the community members that were taking my collected goods and donating them to local families in need. When I visited the community center, I found rows of food on the side of their building. I saw the product of their own hard work and dedication to helping our community. I felt really inspired to continue giving back.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I feel as citizens and members of our community, we benefit regularly from everything our community offers us, whether it’s in school or at church or other community organizations. We benefit greatly from them and I feel like it’s important to give back and especially help those who are in need of volunteer services, and help other community organizations also flourish and dedicate to their own work.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I hope they know that their volunteer service is truly meaningful. Giving back to the community is one of the most compassionate acts someone can do, because it ends up benefiting someone and helping someone in ways that you can’t imagine.
Whenever someone reads my story of my own service, whether it’s youth or an older community member, I hope that he or she understands how important service and youth is. With the community garden, my partner and I regularly recruit youth volunteers to help harvest and grow vegetables and donate the healthy produce to families in need. As an engaged youth, the youth also become inspired to act and address issues within the community and they also learn about extremely important issues within our community. I think it’s critical to engage youth in service and I encourage others to do that as well.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Abby? Find local volunteer opportunities.