By Rebekah Joe
Despite many of REACH’s festivals and volunteering opportunities getting canceled or moved online because of the coronavirus, REACH had the chance to serve at the Sharing Center during December. This non-profit organization works with the impoverished in our local community to prevent hunger and homelessness. They also provide essential resources to relieve the burden of poverty and food insecurity for families in crisis. During our time there, we were split up into different categories: sorting clothes, testing electronics, and other items such as toys and household items. I worked in the clothing department, checking clothes for stains, rips, tears, and imperfections. We sorted the clothes in good condition and put them in bags to be used later for underprivileged families. For the other clothing, we sorted it in other bags to send to third-world countries in need. It was rewarding to work with other REACH members while following the safety protocols and getting to serve our community. It was a joy working with The Sharing Center, and I look forward to working with them more in the future!
By Serina Kaochari
During the month of November, REACH had the opportunity to volunteer at The Sharing Center, which is an organization dedicated to providing resources to those in need. I had volunteered on the 28th, and it was a very stimulating experience. Each group had different tasks assigned, ranging from: packing books in boxes, testing out electronic devices, and sorting pillows and clothes. It was an amazing experience, and all groups were able to efficiently work through our tasks. The environment in the Sharing Center was very friendly and welcoming, as workers were encouraging and helped to motivate all the volunteers by giving orders and clear instructions. I was able to grasp the idea of the community which REACH is built on, and further see the impact REACH has made on others throughout our many projects. This was my first volunteer experience of this year with REACH, and I look forward to more similar events in the future.
By Emme Lee
On November 28th, REACH volunteered at The Sharing Center. I believe that it was one of the most fun volunteer experiences I’ve had with REACH. We had a blast! When the volunteers arrived, they signed in and were split up among the sorting departments. These departments included clothes, toys, and electronics. I was one of the volunteers who sorted clothes. My job was to check garments to see if they were in good condition, and then place them in the corresponding labeled bins. I was excited that I could converse with my fellow volunteers, as we were stationary for most of the time. Then, after we had been sorting for hours, we went to the break room to eat pizza. It was really nice to eat after we had been working for so long! Although I had to leave early, I was glad that I sorted the most clothes that I possibly could. I can’t wait to volunteer at The Sharing Center again!
By Rebekah Joe
Despite the unprecedented year with COVID-19, many students still took part in the the annual Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) Student Achiever Awards. The ceremony took place through Zoom on November 7, 2020 to celebrate the great accomplishments in academics, community service, and representation in culture of all the students who applied.
In addition, AAHC also hosted their third annual essay contest, this time giving a prompt regarding the coronavirus: The coronavirus disease ( COVID‐19) pandemic has upended family life around the world. School closures, working remotely, physical distancing ‐ it’s a lot to navigate. From your own experience, describe what you learned from virtual school and real life and how you cope with social distancing during the pandemic. Rebekah Joe, a homeschooled junior, won first place with her response. You can watch her read the essay here or read the essay below.
"I thought that 2020 was going to be the crowning year and start of a new decade, filled with great accomplishments, more opportunities, and more bonding with my community than the previous years. Then, COVID-19 came crashing like a storm and wreaked havoc everywhere, upending our typical lives and making those hopes seem impossible. However, the pandemic changed my perspective on life, helping me realize the importance of supporting my community through thick and thin.
At the beginning of the coronavirus, while people overbought toilet paper and students rejoiced over an extended spring break, I unaffectedly sat at home, taking online classes that I was already accustomed to because of our homeschooling choice. However, after the shutdown, I desperately missed the community activities I took for granted: soccer practices, volunteering, board meetings, and even speech and debate tournaments. Other than doing the typical quarantine activities like going outdoors, baking, reading, taking a road trip, and connecting with friends, I learned how to use my time intentionally to benefit those around me. Each experience of online meetings, wearing a mask, and sanitizing hands reminded me that I sacrificed comforts for the sake of those around me. Next, besides staying focused academically, I found opportunities to mentor and connect a group of 5th-grade girls through Zoom. Additionally, through volunteering for 120 hours as a junior camp counselor at the science center, I found the joys in making kids smile, bonding with them, giving them exciting memories from the summer, and helping each child doing their part to keep the community safe. Each experience opened my eyes to the blessings and comfort that comes from being there for others. Although staying at home is by no means easy, I am grateful that COVID-19 demonstrated the value of a resilient community that compromises and works to support others.
Though I thought that all my plans had been shattered because of COVID-19, I now see that they simply happened differently. While the pandemic has drastically impacted my life, in the last seven months I’ve seen the beauty of people mourning, celebrating, fighting for justice, and supporting each other in unity. Through video calls, online socials, and even leading online dragon boat training, I experienced that community will always encourage me, as I did for others. Thanks to the support of those around me, I've learned that accomplishments aren’t just a trophy I take home, but adapting to my new normal by learning, having flexibility, empathy, and resilience instead of wishing for life to return to normal. Even though my soccer season, speech and debate tournaments, specific volunteer opportunities, and retreats have been canceled, community itself isn’t canceled. Instead, coronavirus helped me reflect on community, racial justice, and how I could support others by actively seeking ways to reach out to them. Though the coronavirus has upended life, each situation since then taught me that despite a global pandemic, community is unstoppable and can never be masked."
Overall, REACH congratulates and is extremely proud of all the student applicants, whether or not they received an award, for all of their hard work!
By Jiselle Lee
As of March 31st, 2020, all of REACH’s events will be cancelled or postponed until the end of spring. Although we cannot continue our regular volunteer activities during this time, it is still possible to safely help people in need within our community. Here are some ways we can continue our REACH volunteer activities while remaining within the social distancing protocols:
1) Donate supplies to local non-profit organizations
As some of you may know, REACH volunteers with United Against Poverty and The Sharing Center, both of which work to prevent homelessness and hunger in the Orange County and Seminole County areas. During this increased time of need, they are remaining open to aid low-income families.
In addition to the massive growing need of food supplies in the country, The Sharing Center is in desperate need of cleaning supplies:
More information on how you can help can be found here: http://thesharingcenter.org/coronavirus-update/8235068
2) Donate to national relief funds from home
You can donate to organizations such as the CDC Foundation, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy COVID-19 Response Fund, Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, and more from home.
- The CDC Foundation supports the critical health protection work of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Donate Here: https://give.cdcfoundation.org/give/269833/#!/donation/checkout
- The Center for Disaster Philanthropy COVID-19 Response Fund supports nonprofit organizations working in areas identified as having high numbers of affected individuals and those working with the most vulnerable populations. (This helps with purchasing masks, gowns, gloves, and other protective equipment to healthcare workers.)
Donate Here: https://disasterphilanthropy.org/donate-to-the-cdp-covid-19-response-fund/
- Feeding America will help food banks across the country support the most vulnerable communities affected by the pandemic.
Donate Here: https://www.feedingamerica.org
- Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious meals to the country’s most vulnerable seniors.
Donate Here: https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org
3) Use your platform to advocate for the individuals and organizations that need our help
If you cannot personally donate or volunteer for these organizations, reach out to those who can! Post online the importance of staying home and washing your hands! Spread awareness online about the nonprofit organizations that need our help!
REACH, Recognizing Experiencing Asian Cultural Heritage, strives to bring together and help all members of the community. During this time, we must do what we can to help those around us.
By Alex Tao
On November 16, 2019, the annual Asian American Heritage Council (AAHC) Student Achiever Awards Ceremony took place at the Orange County Library. For the past twenty five years, AAHC has commended Asian-American students for academic excellence, community service, preservation of culture, and language. On top of the scholarship awards for each grade level, AAHC hosted their 2nd annual essay contest which asked this question: As Asian Americans, how and in what ways can we promote unity in diversity? Please explain. Junior Alex Tao won 1st place with his thought-provoking and inspiring essay, written below.
(More information about this event, pictures, and a list of winners can be found at Asia Trend: asiatrend.org/lifestyle/education/aahc-four-letters-that-represent-many-cultures/)
"Five-point six percent. Each time I look at this number my heart fills with pride at what it represents. Our population of Asian Americans in the U.S. has grown more than 72% in the last two decades alone – a change unprecedented in the history of the United States for the Asian community. This shift also exhibits the nation’s melting pot demographics, with many different nationalities cohabiting together. As Asian Americans, we can promote unity in diversity by being aware of not only the different cultures that surround us, but also being conscious of the differences among our own race of people. In order to make change and bolster unity in our community, we must first be honest with ourselves. As human beings, we all hold inherent biases against those not of our in-group and even those who are. As a second generation Asian American, I often find what I like to call “behind the door discrimination” occurring in the community. We may not be up front with our prejudices against others, but from time to time, I find myself observing fellow Asian Americans exhibiting prejudice towards other people. If we fail acknowledge this and don’t realize that we have the power to improve our cohesion, how can we ever expect to close the gaps between our community and the rest of America? The crux of the issues relating to the maintenance of unity in diversity lies in the dogmatic attitudes that we are prone to embody. Many a times, we often rest on what separates us from others. While recognizing our individual cultures and celebrating what makes us unique is important, it is equally important to be aware of both the commonalities that we share and the aspects of what makes others distinct from us. As mentioned prior, we must also be cognizant of the differences within our own community. Clumping our community under “Asian” can make one forget about the differences that reside in our own race. America houses more than 20 distinct Asian ethnic groups that each speak their own language, have their own food and other special cultural aspects. We must be aware of this and be open to learning about the culture of our peers and coworkers. Unity without uniformity is what we should be striving for. Completely assimilating into a culture leads to a loss of identity, something that should be avoided at all costs. That being said, there should also be an effort on our part to reach out of our individualistic mindsets and to make a genuine attempt to understand other people. As Asian Americans, we can promote diversity through simple things like asking someone about their culture with the intent to broaden your perspective. At the root of it, we are all human beings living in the same nation, the same planet, breathing the same air. We can promote diversity by changing our mindsets to include others and adopting the ideals behind one of my favorite quotes – we all bleed red."
By Jiselle Lee
This year, the REACH dragon boat team encountered defeat; not by other racing teams, but by a tornado warning.
For the past eight years, REACH has participated in an annual dragon boat festival in Orlando. We begin practices at the Orlando Rowing Club at the end of summer vacation, and we practice once or twice a month until the race in October.
In June, Praveen Sundar was voted Captain, and Emme Lee and I were voted Co-Captains. Together, we led the team, distributed waivers, and collected fees to prepare them for the race. Although we admittedly struggled to meet the member requirements during the first few practices, we managed to solidify our team before the race.
However, the night before the race when we checked the latest weather reports, we were worried to find that there was a high chance of thunderstorms all Saturday morning. While we hoped that the weather would not prevent us from racing, things took a turn for the worse the next day.
On the morning of October 16th, the team received tornado warnings occurring in the area. At the lake, it was pouring rain and the harsh wind forced us to bundle up and stay under our tent. The team leaders attended the race’s Captains Meeting, where the organizers announced that the races would continue as scheduled. However, the harsh weather was incessant. Our competitors are seasoned racers and have practiced all year round. Not to mention, they were all adults; meanwhile, most of our team was under the age of 18.
After much thought and consideration, the team leaders ultimately decided to back out of the race. Most of us went home to stay in the comfort of our homes, but a few stayed to watch the race. They reported that there was flooding all around the lake for the rest of the day.
Then, coincidentally, on November 9th, 2019, four REACH dragon boat team members raced with Team CHARGE at the Lake Hernando Dragon Boat Festival. Yet once again, we faced challenges during the race due to the weather. During Team CHARGE’s first two races, the racers were at the mercy of the wind and waves, which caused the other racing boats to nearly crash into us. Ultimately, after those two attempts, CHARGE won bronze!
As a Co-captain of the 2019 REACH Dragon Boat Team, this win made me feel victorious. Although we all wished Team REACH could have raced on October 16th, in a way, our hard work paid off. The training and dedication we made to practice our technique allowed us to contribute to Team CHARGE ‘s win.
I hope that the REACH underclassmen who were introduced to dragon boat this year try out for the team again in summer 2020, and I encourage everyone to try racing with CHARGE at any time during the year.
Former REACH captains Kevin Chu and Duc-Thanh Nguyen, REACH VP of Communications Takkai Wong, and 2019 Co-President and Co-Captain Jiselle Lee paddle with Team CHARGE.