Student Receives Local Volunteer of the Year Award

The San Diego Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals announced Sixth College freshman Linh Luong as this year’s Outstanding Youth/Student Volunteer at its 44th annual National Philanthropy Day yesterday.

Luong expressed her gratitude to the UCSD Guardian, but she emphasized that she is just one of many individuals who help strengthen the city of San Diego.

“I think this award could be shared with a lot of other youths in the community of San Diego as well since it does represent a lot of us who balance our school work as well as our advocacy work,” Luong said. “We have an amazing city and a large part of that is because of the work of youths. I am incredibly appreciative to represent the youth community of San Diego and will continue doing what I am doing.”

The AFP recognizes the impact of philanthropy on society and distinguishes individuals who take action to support and fortify the community. Reality Changers— the nonprofit that nominated Luong for the award — provides scholarships and programs to disadvantaged youth and has served over one thousand students in San Diego County.

Christopher Yanov, president and founder of Reality Changers, described the immense growth of the organization. Having begun in 2001 with only four students and $300, Reality Changers now serves thousands of San Diego County’s disadvantaged youth annually who are first-generation college students. Furthermore, over $100 million in scholarship money has been awarded to program graduates.

According to Yanov, Reality Changers values higher education and wants to help provide this for underprivileged youth.

“Reality Changers believes that college changes everything,” Yanov told the Guardian. “The founding principle of Reality Changers was that it just wasn’t right that most inner-city students today know more people who have been harmed or killed in the street than people who are on the road to college.”

Having spent her entire high school career volunteering, Luong has accomplished many projects, including a mentorship program in her high school based on high performance, a reusable shopping bag initiative and a photo campaign on the importance of parent participation in stopping minorities from consuming alcohol and drugs. Additionally, Luong developed a TED Book Talk Club and established the first TED Talk at her high school to allow for discussion on recent events and societal issues.

Out of her many experiences, Luong’s proudest volunteering moment took place when she was awarding medals to runners at a San Diego marathon. Despite the mix of highly experienced runners, there was one runner who was committed to finishing the race, despite the fact that the marathon staff had already begun to clean up.

When the individual completed the race, Luong realized how much she enjoys volunteering. Being able to connect with people who are absolute strangers to her is what makes these experiences within the community so special.

“When the last person to finish finally made her way past the finish line, I had one medal left and got the honor to put it on her,” Luong told the Guardian. “It was unbelievable because I could tell how proud she was of herself, and her happiness was extremely contagious. And I think that’s what makes volunteering and reaching out to people that I hadn’t known before worthwhile.”

Luong further explained the importance of volunteering and how every action, no matter how small, can have a great impact.

“I think everyone, at least once in their life, wanted to be a superhero and save the world,” Luong stated. “Making a positive impact does not have degrees of superiority. Whether it is one other person that is being helped or a thousand people that are being helped, every little kind act makes a difference and I think that is what students need to recognize. I like to think that doing good will cause a ripple effect.”

Luong thanked her friends and family for their support. In particular, she was grateful to her mentor Jordan Harrison, who serves as Director of College Town at Reality Changers.

“Linh created a community that cared,” Harrison said. “She informed them about areas of need in her neighborhood. She facilitated discussion on policies that impact City Heights and, as a high school student, became a ‘thought leader’ for those in the community.”