By Khaled Itani REACH Senior Advisor and student at the University of Central Florida
On February 1st, Recognizing Experiencing Asian Cultural Heritage (REACH) of Central Florida celebrated its 10th year anniversary at the Plaza Live. For 10 years now REACH has been an integrated part of the Central Florida Asian American community as a consistent and effective volunteer-base and young-leaders. The Anniversary Banquet was organized by the current REACH 2019-2020 Board and its Communication Department in order to recognize REACH’s achievements and growth over the past 10 years. The event featured cultural and contemporary performances, catering, government proclamations recognizing REACH’s 10th anniversary and a running video of REACH alumni reflecting back on their time in REACH. Local government officials and community leaders from local organizations attended the ceremony in addition to REACH Alumni currently in university or beyond, REACH members and officers as well as their friends and families.
REACH began in 2010, founded by students Frank Lau, Hans Lau and Tiffany Tang as a small initiative of volunteerism relating to the Asian American community of Central Florida, and steadily grew to include a member base and officer board spanning a few high schools in Orlando. Today, REACH’s presence spans across 12 high school programs in both Orange and Seminole counties. Each year, REACH provides its member base well over 75 hours of volunteer opportunities with emphasis on cultural preservation, promotion and emphasis on giving back to the community.
Being in university right now, I and several of my peers look back fondly at REACH and recognize truly how much of a privilege it was to have a high school Asian-American focus youth group that cultivated professionalism, volunteerism and appreciation for cultural diversity at such a young age. I see it now in university, most Asian-Americans did not have such an organization where they grew up, in this way we can say that REACH is a gem of Central Florida.
The values of REACH have the propensity to stay with us throughout life. REACH Alumni have attended ivy league schools, been part of prestigious programs, been involved in campus leadership at their universities and continuously pay respect to their heritage wherever they go. Being part of a motivated group of students creates a healthy sense of striving for excellence, and this is a healthy mindset to maintain throughout life, and we as REACH alumni attribute part of these views to the seeds planted within us during our time in REACH. It is no coincidence that of the REACH Alumni in attendance, three of them were past/current Presidents of the Asian Student Association at UCF (2016-17: Justin Chu, 2018-19: Khaled Itani, Taylor Trinh: 2019-2020), with several other alumni in attendance also being involved in Asian American campus leadership in officer positions and/or active membership.
College-Admissions are becoming ever-competitive, and while admissions committees continue to value high GPA and standardized exam scores, there is also increased value on meaningful extracurricular involvements and the inherent structure of REACH has always ensured that students have a platform for academic excellence in conjunction with cultural initiatives and community volunteerism. In this way, involvement in REACH offers not only a competitive edge but also meaningful opportunities for growth and exposure to different cultures.
We thank Ms. Pauline Ho for all she has done for REACH over the past 10 years, any board member past or present can testify that she is in several respects a second mother to all of us. She has seen several of us grow and mature throughout the years, but beyond that she has actually been a part of these journeys. It is community-oriented individuals such as Ms.Pauline in REACH or the boards of AsiaTrend and other community organizations that inspire the youth to not only recognize the importance of community, but to love and cherish it as well.
It might seem far off, but in my humble opinion it is only a matter of time before REACH Alumni return to REACH in adulthood as sponsors, organizers and chairs to continue the legacy of recognizing and experiencing Asian cultural heritage within the framework of civic engagement and a love for community.
The Central Florida Asian American community looks forward to what REACH has in store for years to come, and wish all REACH members and alumni continued success.
REACH's 10th Anniversary Experiences
By Emme Lee REACH High School Coordinator and Homeschooled Sophomore
On February 1st, REACH celebrated its 10th anniversary at The Plaza Live. It was an exciting event that we had planned for months in advance. The attendees, which consisted of REACH's alumni, past volunteers, prospective officers, and even a few community supporters, like Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Shally Wong--Special Assistant to Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings, and Nina Yon--President/CEO of the Sharing Center, were able to learn more about REACH's history and enjoy many intriguing performances. This event was highly successful, and it would not have been possible without the many committees who worked so hard on their tasks.
My friend, Jiya Sishodia, and I were in charge of the stage committee. While I had been part of the stage committee as a volunteer before, this was the first time I was going to be an in-charge, so I was extremely excited! Our job was to manage our volunteers and performers to make sure the performances ran smoothly. Before the event, our committee contacted the performers to address any concerns and retrieve their MP3 files for the sound committee. Within a few days, the sound committee had all of the audio files they needed. This task turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected because we got the job done efficiently while learning the backstories of the groups and making some new friends. Next, we assigned jobs to our committee members. We chose two volunteers to guard the changing rooms, and two volunteers to find the performers and help set up their props. On the day of the anniversary, we got to the venue and realized the stage was a bit smaller than we expected. Therefore, for the performers' safety, we had the bigger acts perform on the floor in front of the stage instead. This sudden change gave the viewers a better experience of some of the performances, like the lion dance and tinikling, because the proximity allowed the performers to engage with the audience. The show ended up to be a smashing success! I had a lot of fun as an in-charge for the stage committee, and I would definitely do it again.
By Alex Tao REACH Treasurer and Junior from Hagerty High School
A Decade of Photos: REACH’s Influence on Central Florida
Let me just start off by saying that I can’t be any more impressed by what REACH officers and volunteers were able to pull off at the 10-year anniversary ceremony. I got to the venue a bit late but I was still able to enjoy the show and have a good time with my fellow officers. Setting up for the event was quite a job, and REACH leadership did a great job allocating roles and committee work. The decoration committee did excellent and the catering, well, the catering was simply fantastic. I personally worked on the video committee, acting as the video editor for two of the videos that we wanted to play. The first video that I made was a 24 minute compilation of 10 years of history and it was quite a trip to our history going through over 300 photos. From dragon boating to donating hundreds of toys to different organizations, I was able to in a way absorb what REACH has done in the last 10 years. The second video I edited consisted of around 10 Past Presidents/Advisors interviews, asking them some questions about why they thought REACH was important and the impact that it had on their lives. Some of them were already graduated from college and I really enjoyed seeing someone who moved on from REACH talk about how it impacted them. Overall, the 10 year anniversary was a great idea (shout-out to Jesson again), and the only thing I can say that I am disappointed about is that we can’t do it again next year.
By Justin Chen REACH High School Coordinator and Junior from Windemere High School
Much appreciation to the generosity of Vietnomz, who provided plenty of delicious food for the many patrons that attended the REACH 10 year anniversary. The various dishes they had prepared ensured that no one would go hungry during the beautiful performances and speeches. I volunteered as a caterer with Alex and had the pleasure of meeting with the cooks at Vietnomz. During the anniversary, I sliced cake as performers created stunning works of art across the stage and as the Asian Expo taught about the various cultures across Asia. All in all, catering was a fulfilling task as I inevitably met with nearly everyone at the catering station. As this was my first year with REACH, I had a very general idea about the whole motivation and purpose of this organization. I volunteered previously during the Christmas Mall and saw the altruistic impact REACH had on the community but otherwise my view of REACH was still fuzzy. The anniversary was a great learning experience for myself and other REACH members as we saw the little mementos of the since past years and the wonderful memories that were along the way. To say this event was captivating to me would be an understatement. Not only were students from all across Central Florida present, but even graduated REACH officers that had felt such an impact to actually return to an incredibly supportive second family.
By Praveen Sundar REACH Co-President and Senior at Seminole High School
Getting in contact with majority of the past presidents as well as advisers was a very rewarding experience. It took quite a bit of moving things around on the calendar in order to get the interviews held, but overall it was a wonderful time. I got to learn more about REACH from the various anecdotes of the presidents such as how REACH got its name. The video turned out really well, props to the video team: Takkai and Alex. Throughout this planning committee I got to view REACH through a whole new lens. REACH is nearly half my age but it has done so much in its 10 years as seen in the interviews, there’s so much left to come. REACH long!