As a high school junior, Mai Nguyen knew she wanted to give back to her community by leveraging her true passion for taking care of others, but it wasn’t until she united with fellow teens to organize The Hope Festival that she found a way to best serve her community. The nonprofit organization, based in Sammamish, Washington, is coordinated by all-youth organizers who prepare year-round for the designated day of care, where hundreds of in-need families and individuals are given basic items and services like a bag of groceries for the month, clothing, haircuts, hygienic items and toys. Points of Light spoke with the 18-year-old, who is currently a college freshman studying to be a physician’s assistant, to learn more about her service, and how she is making a difference by improving quality of life for others in her community.
Tell us more about The Hope Festival.
This year, The Hope Festival is March 3, 2018. It was founded several years ago—I served as the co-director last year, this year I’m in college and continuing to help out at The Hope Festival while also doing some additional philanthropy through my sorority. The main organizers for the festival are usually a group of four teens, and as a youth-led nonprofit, finding businesses and corporations that will help with donations is challenging. You spend days putting supplies together, the whole year leads up to this one day of care. It’s a day where we make sure that people feel they can get a take a break from life, and not worry about the bigger things and just focus on themselves.
Why do you believe it’s so important to give back?
Our community is what our support system is. The community is what made me what I am today. I’ve grown up in a very privileged area, and it’s only fair to give back to those who don’t have as much. It’s just a nice thing, if I have the power to give back to others that don’t have as much as me, there’s no reason not to.
You serve as an inspiration to younger children in your community through your volunteerism. What does that mean to you?
That means everything to me. I am going to school and want to be a pediatric doctor, I think kids are our future. They have the whole world in front of them, and being that person to them. I know so many people I’ve looked up to and have centered my life around these ideals of who these people are and what an inspiration they are to me. To imagine that, I’m that to someone else, I can’t even wrap my head around it.
What does it feel like to help others?
It’s incredible to see, when you’re working behind the scenes for a year. I can’t even describe the number of hours we put in in a really dark, cold storage unit…when it’s snowing and raining, and we’re trying to get a pallet of toys into a storage unit. It’s so many different little things that go into the day, and it all pays off when you see the looks on people’s faces. They’re happy, content and relaxed. Community services is rewarding and it gives back to you emotionally as well. Community service has always had a place in my heart, The Hope Festival was just the next step to be involved in a bigger way.
In less than 10 words, explain what volunteering means to you?
Giving back to yourself and others.
How would you encourage others to give back in their own communities?
It’s so easy to give back. You don’t have to do something that’s big and grand like this big event. You can give back during holiday times, you can get a can of food for someone who is hungry. You can pick up the trash outside and make your community look beautiful. Especially as a younger kid, if you need volunteer experience, people always need help – help out with your family, friends. Do something above yourself to help others, using your own skills and effort to do so.
Speaking of The Hope Festival, what does “hope” mean to you?
Hope in essence, is looking forward to the future. It’s difficult sometimes when you’re wrapped up in what’s today’s worries are. You drop off your kids, you have to go to work, you’ll be tired, you have to figure out how to get food on the table. You have to figure out school clothes for the year. Giving people an opportunity to have something to look forward to in the future like this day of hope – it pushes them forward.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Mai? Visit All For Good to find local volunteer opportunities.