I’m a junior at Wellesley College and a former director of Chinatown Afterschool program. Chinatown Afterschool aims to provide a safe and free afterschool space where we tutor kids grades 1-6 and carry out academic enrichment projects. We have around 45 students from local Chinatown schools coming Monday through Friday, and all of them have grown up in a household that speaks a language other than English. Seeing the need for one-on-one ELL (English Language Learner) tutoring, we’ve started a small ELL classroom for the students who need a little extra help with their English. Personally, my most rewarding moments with the program have been through working closely with ELL students. As I translate their homework, they tell me stories about their new life, how they got here, and the struggles they face in their new schools. In return, I tell them that I, too, struggled to learn English and keep up in school when I first arrived in the States and that they are capable of growing roots in this new place. Not only do I get to watch them go from barely being able to read their homework to writing paragraphs by the end of the year, but I also get to build relationships with them and all the other incredible kids in our program.
I’ve been with the program since my first semester freshman year, and through it all, I’ve seen so much growth—I’ve watched our students grow both physically and intellectually, I’ve watched their younger siblings grow and learn to walk, and I’ve seen myself grow into the person and leader I am today. Working with Chinatown Afterschool has completely changed how I approach public service. Now, I know that public service is not about what you can give to the community, but also about what the community has given to me. It is such a privilege to be able to stand by this resilient community and help however I can. I’ve gotten so much joy out of watching our students grow, out of these families trusting us and allowing us to be a part of their lives. As volunteers, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are working with people. We are building relationships with the people we serve, and we must remember that often the most important thing we can do is to listen.
Currently, I am co-chairing the Chinatown Committee, a subcommittee of all the directors of PBHA Chinatown programs. Our goal is to bring PBHA’s adult and youth programs together in order to provide more holistic, community-oriented service to the Boston Chinatown community. As Chinatown becomes increasingly gentrified and this country’s policies become increasingly hostile to immigrants, we need to use our voices to stand by this community.