The other weekend, I was invited by a Vietnamese-American friend, David, who works for a non-profit partnering with disadvantaged young people in the city of Washington DC, to volunteer cooking dinner for the homeless people. The idea of working with young people, one of the sector that I am really passionate of working with, gave me the adrenaline excitement to say yes to a friend’s invitation without a doubt!

The organization that I volunteered basically works and partners with high school aged students, who are at risk of dropping out from school or those who dropped out already from school. The young people that they served are from very economically disadvantaged families of the city and most if not all experienced social problems in their homes and even communities like drugs, gang violence and even psychological trauma of being transferred from one foster home to another. Aside from serving, they engaged these young people who are mostly from the Southeast of Washington DC to volunteer and do relevant activities to unleash their leadership potential.

Actually, David’s invitation was long overdue already, since he invited me many times already since the first few months that I arrived in Washington DC. It had always been cancelled due to conflict of schedules. The moment of excitement within me came until that weekend when I was finally able to arrange a schedule with him and the rest was history.  The excitement was because I missed working directly with young people and  David told me that we are doing to do a “Dinner Fellowship” volunteer work with young leaders.

The concept of a “Dinner Fellowship” was something new to me then. What we did was we worked with the identified at risk young people to cook dinner at the shelter for the homeless, the Samaritan Inn in Columbia Heights. It was serving, eating and sharing stories with the people of the shelter in one.

Having such idea and excitement, I decided to volunteer that sunny and warm Saturday afternoon. David drove to pick me up and came already with a young leader named Raven. Then, we proceeded to pick up the other young members of the team.

Raven is a very inspiring young leader. She is on her senior years and she is about to graduate in college this coming May. Despite all the social and economic challenges in her life, she shall finish high school and she, as she declared, is ready for college, is it that wonderful to hear? Raven loves sports and she is also the peer mentor of her community group. In her community, she is leading four other disadvantage young people, and at that time she mentioned in our conversation that two of the four young peers already stopped seeing her and joining the leadership and volunteering sessions that they had in the community. She continued saying that she felt bad about it, but she is very happy and hopeful to share that the two that were left considered getting back school this school year.

Listening to her shared her youthful story while we were cooking the spaghetti, toasting the buttered bread and preparing the salad, I just felt good and very inspired. She was sharing and teaching me the value that life is real good, and in every person there is always this potential to be better.

Such moment showed me on how engaging disadvantaged young people in relevant volunteer and leadership activities impacts their lives. This is despite of the fact that oftentimes the perception of a very judging society considers them unproductive and, worst, unwanted. Raven is one of the living examples who inspired me a lot, that there is better to proud about these sector of young people and we need to understand them deeper to bring out the best in them.

After we cooked, Raven and the rest of us joined the people in the shelter ate dinner. We had all the great sharing that whole evening. Raven continued sharing and told me that she just felt happy doing the feeding for the homeless, the first time. She thought before that her experience in life was the worst. At that moment, she realized that she is more blessed compared to the homeless people in the shelter even if she was living in a foster home. She said that she is still lucky to have foster parents who loved and cared for her unconditionally.

Hearing those statements from her, I was touched and felt happy deep inside that somehow that volunteering engagement that we shared that day touched Raven’s inner self. More than that, I am happy to rekindle my inspiration of working more and better with disadvantage young people because of such meaningful and priceless volunteering experience!

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