Op-Ed by Stephanie Shao
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
May 12, 2018, 8:06 PM
A text illuminated my phone screen — it was a message from Kevin Chiang.
“We still on for 8:30?” it read.
I pulled into the parking lot of our local Reston office, parked, and then picked up my phone to reply. “Yep!” I shot back. It was a Friday night; the night before the Greater Washington D.C. Region’s 2018 Buddha Bathing Ceremony. I’d come to the office to rehearse for the event.
Several nights earlier, I had reached out to Kevin, who graciously agreed to help. The sky had already darkened as I walked into the office. The lights were off, as our office volunteers had already returned home for the day. I flicked the lights on and went downstairs to the main lecture hall. It wasn’t long after I set up that Kevin arrived.
He turned on the projector to pull up my slides, and we went through the flow several times together before he took a seat in the audience. Nerves began to creep over me as I read through my lines. But every time I anxiously looked up, Kevin’s face was warm and bright. It was nice to see an encouraging face at the back of the room. The rehearsal lasted for several hours that evening. By the time we left, it was nearly midnight. Although I was still anxious for the big day, Kevin’s presence had reassured me.
As always, I’m incredibly grateful for his unfaltering support.
I’ve known Kevin for five years now. Kevin is originally from Los Angeles, but relocated to the Washington Metropolitan area for work. Over the course of several years, he has become an indispensable asset to the Greater Washington, D.C. Tzu Chi family. Straightforward and honest, diligent yet unassuming, Kevin will always speak his mind to ensure things are conducted effectively and efficiently.
When you ask Kevin whom his greatest inspiration is, he will undoubtedly refer to his mother. As a single parent, Kevin’s mother balanced three jobs while caring for Kevin and his older sister. At the time, they had just moved to the United States and were making a life of their own. Although her time was limited, Kevin’s mother remained a devoted Tzu Chi volunteer. When she could visit the office, she always spent time preparing food for volunteers as a means of showing her gratitude. As a result, Kevin and his older sister grew accustomed to attending various local volunteer activities alongside their mother. Tea parties, sign language classes, and recycling activities, all became part of their everyday life.
For many years, this was the extent of Kevin’s involvement with Tzu Chi: accompanying his mother to the office, and helping out wherever there was a need. Over time, he became a recognizable face at his local office. So, when Tzu Chi USA’s headquarters opened Tzu Chi Academy in San Dimas in 2006, Kevin was recruited to teach Kung Fu as an extracurricular activity.
At first, Kevin adamantly refused. However, when the Academy was pressed with the need for a teacher, he agreed, albeit a tad reluctantly.
“Little did I know, this turned out to be one of the hardest challenges of my life,” Kevin recalled. “At this point, I had been practicing Kung Fu for five to six years, but I had no experience as a teacher. Even as a teacher’s assistant, I never had more than five students under my care. All of a sudden, I was responsible for teaching twenty-four kids between five to fourteen years old, with only two weeks to prepare.”
Daunting as it was, this experience instilled a sense of confidence in Kevin that would give him the courage to overcome future challenges.
Throughout our lifetime, we are shaped not only by our experiences, but also by the people we encounter. What has touched Kevin the most throughout his journey in Tzu Chi is the kindness exhibited by those around him. Although he has perhaps not always believed in himself, he always felt that those around him believed in him.
When Kevin was initially recruited as a Kung Fu teacher, he had no teaching experience. Because of this, he was reluctant to accept the position:
This encouragement from other volunteers not only led Kevin to eventually accept the teaching position, but also begin volunteer training and become a Tzu Chi Faith Corps member. After moving to the Washington metropolitan region, Kevin worked closely with local volunteers on a number of projects. He was later nominated by local volunteers to lead the hospitality team for Tzu Chi Collegiate Association’s 2017 (TCCA) Leadership Conference held in Washington, D.C., and soon after, was recruited to be the coordination lead for Tzu Chi USA’s 2018 and 2019 Spiritual Retreats.
Kevin has undoubtedly grown through each of these experiences. While challenging, he has approached each opportunity with an open mindset. “All these aunties and uncles have brought so much positivity into my life that I can’t help but be grateful for their compassion and faith in me. I can be stubborn, but their faith in me inspires me to be better,” he expressed.
Years ago, Kevin was simply a young boy who accompanied his mother in her work with Tzu Chi. However, as Kevin became more involved, his affinity with Tzu Chi deepened, and over time, it became a part of his identity. Many years have passed, and Kevin has paved his own path within Tzu Chi. With every step forward, he has become more resolute in his mission as a Tzu Chi volunteer. Inspired by his mother’s genuine joy in giving and the kindness he has received from volunteers along his journey, Kevin now hopes to pay this love forward. He aspires to make a positive impact on all those around him — including his fellow volunteers.
During Tzu Chi USA’s 30th anniversary celebrations, Kevin emphasized the importance of accompanying the younger generation. “I am constantly inspired by the creativity of younger folks,” he explained. “It’s cool to see them become more involved.” Kevin also referred to his own experiences, noting, “Young people should have more chances to experience success and failure. I haven’t always succeeded, but I have learned a lot through each of my experiences.”
Although he may not realize it, Kevin has consistently served as a source of encouragement and support to young volunteers around him.
Back in 2017, several of Kevin’s previous Kung Fu students, now Tzu Chings, attended the TCCA Leadership Conference hosted in the Greater Washington, D.C. region. Upon seeing Kevin, the students enthusiastically greeted him, and recited the first aphorism they learned from him many years ago: “Treat others the way one would like others to treat oneself.”
Like these students, I am also grateful to know Kevin, and am thankful for all that I’ve learned from him. He encourages me to trust myself and believe in my own potential, regardless of how challenging a situation may be.
Kevin has certainly accumulated a multitude of experiences along his Tzu Chi journey. When asked about his fondest memory, Kevin shared, “When Tzu Chi bought the San Dimas campus years ago, the land had been vacant for a very long time. At that time, nothing was set up yet; not even the kitchen. Volunteers gathered every day and worked tirelessly to help clean up the property. Whether it was watering the grass or patrolling the campus, every person had a role to fill. One day at lunch, the head of the culinary team set up an outdoor propane stove and cooked up delicious, freshly made noodles for volunteers to eat. Everyone sat outside together, eating these noodles, sweating up a storm. It was the best meal I have ever had.” Though this moment may seem insignificant, these are the kinds of memories that Kevin cherishes most. “Being able to step into a position of leadership is nice because it allows you to affect change,” Kevin explained. “But I don’t want or need any titles or recognition. What I love most is being able to experience the small moments; the human moments.”
Throughout his journey, Kevin has met many volunteers who have exhibited genuine sincerity and faith in him which presented opportunities for growth and learning. Moving forward, Kevin hopes to continue on this path paved with virtuous acts of kindness in addition to the smaller moments and interactions with others. Above all else, what Kevin treasures are the moments he shares with others — moments where he can simply be a happy volunteer.
Stephanie Shao – Contributor
Stephanie is a Tzu Ching (or Tzu Chi collegiate group) alumni from the Greater Washington, D.C. area. She recently completed her Commissioner Training and now is a certified Commissioner.