"Using my experience to help others is the best thing I ever did as a teenager."
Student Hak Bounthavy, 23, of Richmond, Calif., is the executive director of a nonprofit organization that he created to provide recreational activities for low-income, at-risk Southeast Asian refugee children and youth.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Hak: I started the nonprofit organization Asian Community of California, Inc. when I was 18 years old, after graduating from high school. My responsibilities involved meeting with the foundations, community leaders and parents; writing grants; planning activities and board meetings; training; and most importantly, working with every child that came to me for help. My goal is to make sure that their needs are being met.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Hak: Asian Community of California, Inc., Richmond, California.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Hak: The program is to benefit everyone who comes to us, but we focus on Southeast Asian children, teens and parents who are refugees from Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
What inspired you to get involved?
Hak: Many of my friends and acquaintances began dropping out of school, doing drugs, getting involved with street gangs, and, sadly, killing and committing crimes that sent them to prison and ended their futures. I wanted to make a difference in the minority community and its problems of poverty.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Hak: I saw the needs of the Southeast Asian families and children in the Richmond area. Many children are at greater risk, and programs like after school centers, clubs, and sport activities were nowhere to be found for those who come from non-speaking English parents. By organizing team sports, group activities and social skills, some volunteers and parents in the community have helped put this project in the right place.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Hak: The children and youth in the community are my motivation. Using my experience to help others is the best thing I ever did as a teenager.
What is/was the hardest part?
Hak: Seeking funds to support the program and writing the proposal was the hardest thing that I have ever done because of lack of experience in this field, and language barriers. I learned a lot by doing things the trial and error way.
What was the biggest surprise?
Hak: Things that surprised me the most were when foundations, corporations and individuals asked me questions such as, "You are so young; where did you get your experiences? Who is helping you? How old are you?” I may be young, but the sacrifice that I made in organizing the project and putting in many hours of volunteer work is the best knowledge that I could gain.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Hak: I have gained a lot of experience since I started the program in Richmond, and all the things that I’ve done have given me the opportunity to improve my own life. Every little step of the way has helped me to better understand my own education, community, and the need of its people.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Hak: "Just do it" because there are so many children and families in poverty who are in need and want your help.
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