Guest post by Austin Hong.
My name is Austin Hong. I am 20 years old, born and raised in Los Angeles, Calif. I’m a rising junior at Boston College, studying finance and computer science, and I think I have some advice for you.
Since high school I’ve developed quite a resume of service activities. Between 2010 and now, I’ve had extensive involvement with nonprofit organizations, the most renowned being Operation Smile. I’ve served on two international service trips in Costa Rica and South Korea, individually spent over 400 hours serving an elementary school in East Boston, as well as served a number of other local organizations and events.
A significant portion of my past six years can be largely described by my passion to serve others, and it’s a passion and joy that many students and young adults my age should experience. The advice and plea I have for those of you involved in the nonprofit industry is to create an increased focus and higher emphasis on incorporating students and student chapters into achieving the goals of your organizations.
Why Student Chapters?
Students are passionate and filled with energy. I believe that high school is the starting point to several years of an individual’s path towards self-discovery. As mystical as that might sound, it is definitely something that will benefit your organization. A high school student will grip whatever interests them and drive forward with it, and for many in my generation, the interest that we have gripped has been our desire to give back to the local and global communities.
My first experience with any sort of nonprofit organization was through my older brother, who was the first to introduce me to Operation Smile. I was instantly compelled to get involved. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I revered him and wanted to mimic everything that he did, or that his personal testimony regarding his experience with the organization and its cause ignited in me a passion to also make a difference. Regardless of the reason, as soon as I was exposed to Operation Smile, I drove forward with it.
Students Need to Volunteer
Not only are your organizations in need of students, students are just as equally in need of your organizations. When a student connects with a nonprofit’s cause, it plants a seed in them that only grows over time. The seed grows in the student and creates values in him or her that are hard to come by anywhere else at that age of their life. The spread of activism and volunteerism are critical in creating a holistic person, and a set of morals. The earlier these morals are set, the longer they have to mature and become ingrained in the student.
Volunteerism will not just create a set of values in a student, but it will also give him or her a rare opportunity to be a leader. Leadership is not entirely impossible to come by within the academic setting; however the unique aspect of leadership within a student chapter is what makes it so attractive.
To put into perspective the effects of a single student and student chapters, the year after my discussion with my older brother, I founded an Operation Smile student chapter at my high school. The year after that, I decided to expand my efforts and rallied twelve existing student chapters in my local area to form what is now known as the Operation Smile Southern California Region. Each student chapter continued their efforts individually; however, as a region, we hosted large-scale awareness events and fundraisers to have a greater impact on our communities and the suffering men, women, and children for whom we served.
By my third year as the president of my student chapter and region, I had helped to provide over 6,000 volunteer hours, raised over $22,000, and created student chapters in six different high schools. I don’t want you to confuse these claims as an attempt to boost my ego, rather I wanted to show you the tangible results of a single driven student. To this day, my high school’s student chapter and the Southern California Region continue to thrive and expand, even without my involvement.
Students should not be pressured, that is to say that a nonprofit’s cause should not be forced down the throat of a high school freshman. Rather, by providing the proper resources and attention to allow a student to be exposed to an organization, and providing the support to continue their interests, engaging students can prove to be an extremely high-yielding investment for any nonprofit organization.
Austin Hong was raised in Los Angeles, California before attending Boston College, where he studies Finance. Currently he is working for a legal management consulting firm in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, Mass.