When Hae-gyung Tessa Han started high school, she set out to find a way to make a difference in the world and connect to her community after previously getting her education from home. The now 17-year-old found the perfect bridge: volunteerism.
Tessa is a member of several equity-based organizations, like her community’s Youth Ambassador Program, Student Justice Collective and Teen Arts Alliance. She continues to tackle issues in her Woodinville, Washington, district one virtual webinar and equity-brainstorm session at a time.
Describe your various volunteer roles in your community.
I’ve always done community service, through National Honor Society and all of that, but I didn’t really start getting involved in larger organizations until last year. There are three main organizations that I’m affiliated with and they’re all very local. With the Youth Ambassador Program, I help give students a voice. For example, mental health was something that we really pushed for this year because we felt that it was really important.
The the Student Justice Collective works within racial education, the Department of Justice and our local district. In the collective, we basically try to push for equity, like taking the Black Lives Matter action into schools. We also hosted an educational panel and facilitated the organization’s Student Justice Conference. We mostly did virtual panels so more people could attend and we still had a few COVID-19 concerns. We also host events for LGBTQ+ and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Finally, the Teen Arts Alliance is something I do outside of school. We all come together to be mentored by some professional artists and get to do projects that benefit the community through art. For example, the project that I worked on specifically was the art book — an activity book that we donated to underserved kids.
How have you brought your volunteerism and activism into schools?
It’s sometimes difficult to get involved in anything in high school because so many people only volunteer in organizations that give them credit or service hours to report.
Describe the Student Justice Collective that you sit on.
The Collective was created because the heads of the department wanted to have collective thought with more young people. They went around to different schools and asked if students who were interested. At the time, I was really interested in racial education and justice, so I joined. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s been a fun experience throughout the year.
We hosted a Social Justice Conference in March that was held at our local community college and around 400 students came together with local professors and we all just workshopped on societal issues and how to solve them. We also got to hear from a keynote speaker which was exciting.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I think mostly just being involved in my community. There are not a ton of people here because we’re not the biggest town in the area so it’s easy to feel a bit disconnected from the city. I also went to home school until high school so I didn’t know a lot of people. So ultimately, I just really wanted to make a small change while meeting people outside of my small circle.
Why is it important for others to get involved, especially for young people and students?
I see it as a certain duty you have to society. I contribute to get involved and give everyone an equitable and equal chance at whatever they want to do. Even if you don’t have a lot of time and have hours of homework, you should reconsider spending some time to get civically engaged. It’s something that you get a very high return on even if the activity isn’t centered on you. It can help you build empathy and other skills throughout your high school experience.
What advice do you have for people getting started in volunteerism?
Sometimes it’s good to just show up and sign up. And if you’re really struggling with finding something, especially in high school, find the people at school who are already involved and talk to them.
Do you have a favorite memory throughout your volunteerism?
The Youth Advisory Board held a retreat and invited older kids from the board that I’m on. We went on the retreat, which was basically just at one of the member’s houses, and discussed future plans. It was really cool to dream and plan for what we all wanted to accomplish. Ideas translated into actionable things in real time. On top of that, it was so cool to see how much went on behind the scenes in terms of our community and district. I didn’t even know we had a district budget plan, and there we all were, discussing it.
Are there any partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about?
We’re basically just going to continue what we’ve done this year. But with the Teen Arts Alliance, every beginning of every school year we start our new art projects. So we have about a year deadline from August. We partner with different organizations too depending on who our mentors are so it’ll be exciting to see what our creative time looks like. I think getting started will be pretty fun.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Tessa? Find local volunteer opportunities.