Tzu Chi USA’s Rising Wave of Young Volunteers

National Headquarters  |  January 30, 2019
Photo: Joyce Kuo and mom, Jane Kuo, end a long day of volunteering at the Camp Fire Disaster Recovery Center in Chico.

Millennials almost never seem to get a break: they are pegged as the laziest, most entitled, and most narcissistic generation alive.  Yet, the same group dedicates their time to volunteering more every year than any other age group.

In honor of so many of them who are deeply committed to hard work, humility, and selflessness, we spoke to some who joined Tzu Chi USA’s Camp Fire relief efforts in Chico.  Here are their insights and motivations into embracing humanitarianism and tackling the challenges that come with the territory- head on.

Howard Tong

Tzu Chi Volunteer: Howard Tong

Over a year ago, Howard Tong worked in accounting.  But, his volunteer experience with Tzu Chi Northwest opened his eyes up to something bigger.  “I had wanted to buy more things, upgrade my lifestyle,” Howard explains; “and I found that chasing after those things did not fulfill me at all.”

Howard made the decision to work full-time as Tzu Chi Northwest‘s Program Specialist and has been in the non-profit sector since.  He’s worked his way through 2017’s Napa and Tubbs Fires, the Carr Fire, and the Camp Fire.

It’s been a year of non-stop with wildfires, he says, hinting at the emotional toll with which it comes.  He recalls, “on my drives home… I would think about all the stories that I’d heard, and then I would cry.”

Today, Howard is sitting down with volunteers to perform the cash card distribution for Camp Fire survivors.  “It’s very hard, you know, sometimes, it’s hard to stay strong, too,” he says of listening to so many stories of pain and loss.

But, Howard emphasizes the work for him is deeply rewarding.  Still, does one have to leave their entire career to pursue meaningful work? Howard quickly says, ‘no.’

Do whatever you can… take the time to figure out what really drives you, what you’re really passionate about, what addresses a huge need in your community, and pursue that. There are so many groups that need to continue great work.

Howard Tong, Program Specialist, Tzu Chi Northwest

Novita Teng

Born and raised in Indonesia, Novita Teng is a young working mother based in Hayward, CA.  She is in Chico as a Tzu Chi volunteer doing a distribution of Tzu Chi USA‘s cash card for the first time.

“Usually, at every event we go to, I’ll take this picture, take that picture…” she remarks of her behind-the-scenes experience as a 3-in-1, or Tzu Chi photo and video volunteer.  Novita says the interpersonal interaction makes this occasion different; “I’m in the scene… and it’s very touching.”

She recalls the morning of the Camp Fire vividly.  At work, Novita noticed how the day looked so beautiful from her Oakland office window; the sun looked so red and pretty.  She shared that sentiment with her colleagues, but one of them explained it was because there was a fire nearby.

“I just felt so sad that I was praising the day for being beautiful, but, it turned out, that it was not that way somewhere else,” Novita cries.

Then, after Thanksgiving, she and her husband received messages from Tzu Chi’s Oakland office, asking who could volunteer for Camp Fire relief distributions.  She decided to come for a day to Chico, taking a vacation day and leaving her one-year-old back home.

As a young parent- millennial or not- she believes her work holds a deeper value than burden.  On her advice to other young parents:

Spend as much time as you can with your kids, but also remember, your kid will know you are doing good deeds for others. They will appreciate it and will still be happy babies when you come home.

Novita Teng, Tzu Chi Volunteer

Joyce Kuo

Working now for a biotech company in Mountain View, CA, Joyce Kuo has loved volunteering alongside her mom through Tzu Chi USA.  They’ve been doing it for years.

“She always asks me if I wanted to join, and I always came to help out a little bit,” she says with a cheerful smile.  Mom, Jane Kuo, is here, too, bustling from station to station.

Though Joyce has volunteered through Tzu Chi Northwest‘s relief work during the Napa and Tubbs Fires, she says this time is different: “this is a lot bigger.”

The trickiest part, according to Joyce: knowing what to say to people who’ve lost everything.

“Sometimes, I just don’t know… other than ‘we’re glad you’re here’… seeing all these kids and these parents, how they have nothing and are trying to support their kids, it’s pretty hard.”

But, Jane, Joyce’s mom, stresses that doing something to relieve suffering is a crucial life experience.  “Human beings need to know!,” she exclaims. The feeling one gets from volunteering, she describes, “is not something that can be taught, it must be experienced… like learning to eat, breathe- this should be in your life!”

It’s clear that Joyce reflects this belief, and values the time they’re able to spend together because of their shared compassion.  “She raised me that way, so it’s nice to be with her, too,” Joyce shares. Still, she acknowledges the pair can be an exception in that way.

Volunteering [like this] is not for everyone, but I feel like everyone should experience it- in close proximity with [survivors]… for younger people out there: look around, be out there, and talk to people.

Joyce Kuo, Tzu Chi Volunteer

Tzu Chi USA is blessed for the wisdom and passion of all our volunteers, including the youngest among our growing team. Help us continue to foster new generations of those who give from the heart and help us give hope to those who need it most.

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