Music is a language Joseph Choe understands. The 17-year-old Newport High School senior has played the violin since he was very young and knows the power that music can wield. For the past three years at his school, he’s used that power to connect to a group of autistic young adults in his community, teaching them the violin, but imparting lessons far beyond a few musical notes. Joseph has patiently worked with these young people, connecting with them on levels their parents hadn’t dreamed possible. He’s also led group hikes through the area with the students, engaging their bodies in healthy physical exercise in a way that gets them to connect with the world around them. It’s slow and painstaking work, but for this teenager of few words, the life lessons go both ways.
Joseph is committed to making a difference in his community and is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree. Points of Light spoke with him about his commitment to service.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I’ve lived in four countries so far in my life, and I’ve always been taken care of. I’ve been lucky, getting all the privileges that come with a comfortable life and a good education. In my freshman year, I set a course for myself – I wanted to give back as a way to know what I want to do with my life. These students inspire me every day. Working with me has inspired me to work towards a career in medicine.
Describe your volunteer role.
I started learning the violin when I was in 7th grade and played in the school orchestra. As part of my volunteer work at school, I thought of the idea of communicating through music. We started with three of us meeting every Saturday with our students one on one – now there are 15 of us doing this. My student is in his early 20s and isn’t really verbal. But he wants to learn. I also lead our students on hikes, which they seem to really love.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I’ve been teaching my student for around three years. Progress is measured differently with an autistic person. It’s not about learning quickly or being able to practice on his own. My student has trouble memorizing and staying focused. He has a short attention span. Music therapy isn’t so much about him learning to play the violin as about making a connection that wasn’t there before. Volunteering has taught me patience and perseverance.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’ve learned a lot about autism. Before I thought that a person with autism couldn’t communicate or form social interaction. I thought that all autistic people were some kind of savant, gifted in one particular way. But each person is different. I’ve learned to have empathy for my student and to see his progress in many small ways.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
We are having a fundraiser at school next month to help fund this music therapy program and get more equipment. It’s like a recital with our students playing the pieces they’ve been learning the whole year for the audience. We are now up to 15 students – the pride they have in their accomplishments, how it makes their families feel, is so great.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
You have to pay it forward. I personally feel like the whole giving back thing might sound cliché, but once you do it, it really changes your life view.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Please don’t judge an autistic student by what you think autism is. Find a way to be patient and see each person as an individual. We all deserve that.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sami Meyers? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities.
Post written by Beth D’Addono