Written by Christina Chang
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan
“Tzu Chi Youth Warriors Camp aims to help vulnerable youths in disadvantaged and marginalized communities to learn from activities and cultivate a mind of kindness,” said Wenting Liu, a Tzu Chi volunteer in Northern California who oversaw the planning and organization of the summer camp.
Alice Griffith is located in the Bayview‒Hunters Point district in San Francisco, California. In the past, the community witnessed increased crime and drugs infiltrated the area. Most city residents had no choice but to avoid it. San Francisco Tzu Chi volunteers have been working to immerse themselves in the community since 2009. The team doesn’t just care for residents in need, they actively try to change the previous atmosphere. Volunteers have donated books to local schools, and uniforms to elementary students, and have helped low-income families support their young learners in studying hard for the future.
Students who have been loved by Tzu Chi volunteers as children are now thriving as teenagers and college students. To continue the cycle of support, Tzu Chi volunteers have been organizing annual summer camps for the past two years, preparing youths to enter into higher education or social work.
Wenting especially emphasized that the design of the Youth Warriors Camp is expected to be in line with Master Cheng Yen’s vision in which a thriving community has young Bodhisattvas (or Warriors). Through building inner integrity and courage, through connecting self, others, and mother Earth, we can and will leave a positive impact on the world.
Health Through Vegetarianism
In 2022, Tzu Chi volunteers organized the second Youth Warriors Camp. The camp was held from July to early August and invites community youths to participate in a multitude of activities at Alice Griffith each weekend.
The core theme of the activity is self-love; spiritual explorations, yoga meditation, music appreciation, vegetarian living, physical activity, financial management, and holistic sharing, fulfill the traditional “bodhisattva-warrior” training courses. Course lecturers come from across the country, and despite being experts in their fields, they chose to participate as unpaid volunteers.
Charles Chen is a chef and wellness entrepreneur. He has suffered from being overweight since he was a teenager, and at one point his weight was as heavy as 260 pounds (118 kg). His health led him to develop early symptoms of diabetes. Charles said he was often lethargic, easily fatigued, and unmotivated to do anything. After trying many weight loss methods, Charles managed to lose through a plant-based diet, losing over 100 pounds (around 50 kg). As his physical health recovered, he also regained self-confidence. Today, Charles is keen on promoting a vegetarian lifestyle both personally and at work, hoping to help others gain a fuller life as he has.
Charles has served as a lecturer of the summer camp health seminar for two consecutive years. When talking about the impact he hopes to bring to the students, Charles said with his usual enthusiastic smile: “I hope to use my experience of health management through vegetarian eating to inspire young learners to take good care of their own minds and body and improve themselves. The summer camp activities have done a good job in this regard, allowing students to start changing themselves beginning with a small thing in life. I also hope that the students will inspire their family and friends along the way, and bring a positive impact on the community.”
Tzu Chi Inspires A Way of Life
Aaron Tanner was born and raised in Alice Griffith. From an early age, she witnessed the loving support of Tzu Chi volunteers. Aaron is the first child to attend college in her community, and she is now a junior at the Academy of Art University.
In the summer of 2018, Tzu Chi volunteers brought a total of 11 teachers and students (one of them being Aaron) from Bayview-Hunters Point School to Taiwan to visit the Tzu Chi Foundation. During the one-week trip, they visited the Jingsi Temple in Hualien to pay homage to Master Cheng Yen. When the group visited Tzu Chi Foundation in Hualien and Taipei, they learned about different daily life rituals. Aaron especially reminisced about the stop at the Tzu Chi Recycle Station in NeiHu, Taipei. Seeing the efforts of Tzu Chi volunteers in recycling and reusing made her reflect on how she could help American families, communities, and even the world.
After returning to San Francisco, Aaron began to guide her family and neighbors in the community to take action in protecting and purifying the community. Through the collective effort of Tzu Chi volunteers, Aaron, and other residents, what was once a community in disarray gradually took on a refreshed look. The positive change in the area inspired Aaron to participate in the Tzu Chi volunteer training course in July 2022, in hopes of utilizing the Tzu Chi humanistic spirit to give back to the community and the world in the future.
Aaron is one of the members of the summer camp, and she spoke about her thoughts: “Youth Warriors Camp helped me learn a lot more about myself and how to maintain peace and control my inner dialogue. I especially learned through the vegetarian eating course on how to achieve my mind and bodily health from inside out.” Aaron even hoped to promote her class learning: “I want to make use of everything I have learned from the summer camp to help myself and others so that more people can learn that this is an excellent summer camp activity.”
Active Youth Warriors Participants
Kelly Zhang, who immigrated with her parents to the U.S. at the age of three, currently attends San Francisco State University. She has been enrolled in the Youth Warriors Camp for the past two years. At the time of the camp, Kelly was preparing to enter her sophomore year. With a bright smile on her face, Kelly reflected: “Since the first summer camp in 2021 to the activities I have participated in this summer, I have learned how to change my life directions through proper lifestyle choices in different aspects. For example, I learned how to make the right choices and fight for my choices in order to find myself and connect with others. This has tremendously helped me as I learn to recognize and construct my personal and community values.”
Kelly lives in Alice Griffith and experienced a house fire four years ago. Fortunately, Tzu Chi volunteers were there to assist with rebuilding after the fire. This inspired Kelly to manage her time in order to serve the community on top of her busy high school academic schedule. As she spoke about what she had learned from serving the community, she said, “We volunteered for Zero Waste events, helping residents clean the community and sort through garbage. As we distribute food during the weekends, we could see how neighbors interact. All of these help me realize that leadership is not only about becoming a role model, but also understanding others’ and my own abilities to gather the strength of the collectives as we contribute together.”
Kelly, who hailed from a Christian family, has been actively participating in Tzu Chi community events over the past few years. Since July 2022, she has not only joined the staff team of Tzu Chi San Francisco but also enrolled in the Tzu Chi volunteer training course to infuse youthful energy into the Tzu Chi local volunteer team and become a real Tzu Chi youth warrior.
Contributing to the Community Together
Tzu Chi volunteer, Roxanne Buchwitz, had joined forces with the Tzu Chi San Francisco volunteered team over ten years ago to penetrate Alice Griffith and care for local residents’ needs. Beginning from the cultivation of the “Happy Campus Program”, the expansion of the “Happy Community”, to fostering more young members through Youth Warriors Camp in the past two years, she recollected her observations of the community’s growth: “These Happy Campus students are like my own kids, some joined us at age five, and they are already 18 now. Seeing their growth makes me happy. Especially after these children have observed how Tzu Chi volunteers have penetrated the community to expand their service projects, they are wiling to work with us.” The givers and the recipients, after many years, join the same side and work towards the same goal, jointly giving back to the community and the world.
The perpetual energy brought about by the new generation brings a joyful face to the once-gloomy Alice Griffith. What was once a place people moved away from now displays youthful vigor and bright vitality. The participation of every generation’s youth warriors will help future generations to flourish. Under the bright sky and scenic oceanside of the San Francisco Bayview, as they peer at the endlessness of the world, these warriors will fly towards a brighter future.