From when I was little, I always knew what my life goal was: to make a difference in the world. If I died knowing that I changed somebody else’s life, I would die happy. Everything I did would have been worth it. Besides that, I’m not quite sure exactly what I want to do in life. To be honest, I did not go into the Ward Fellowship with a plan laid out to work in the government or to run for office in the future. At this point, I do not know what my future plans are, nor what I will major in. (I still have my senior year of high school and freshman year of college to figure that out… hopefully.) However, I decided to apply to the Ward Fellowship in order to learn more about public service and the different forms this can take. At the end of the day, regardless of whether I decide to become a lawyer, or scientist, or do end up working in government, I want to serve others with my job, and I felt that the Ward Fellowship was a prime opportunity to gain experience with this.

I was born in China, to a family that lived in the same state for as long as they traced their family tree. My mom and dad were the first to move out to a foreign country. When we came to America, life was not the picturesque painting that movies seem to always show. Truth be told, life was incredibly hard. Back in China, there was always talk about “the American Dream.” Everyone talked about the opportunity, the possibility of social mobility. My parents were both farmers in small villages, where sending even just a couple children to college was an accomplishment, so moving to America signified to them a new beginning and a new chance at creating the life they wanted. However, no one mentioned the side effects of the American Dream. No one prepared me for the nights when I could not see my mother before I went to sleep because she was out waitressing. No one talked about the trips from McDonalds where I nibbled on my chicken nuggets, trying to make them last as long as possible because we only went to McDonalds for special occasions.

Nevertheless, I never felt that my childhood was lacking, and a big part of this was due to the great presence of the West End House Boys and Girls Club, an afterschool program powered by volunteers, in my life. There, I was able to learn art, have access to a gym and swimming pool, and even take dance and instrument lessons. And, as many of their workers were volunteers who gave up their time to do things such as help us with homework and teach us how to make strawberry shortcake, the program only charged fifteen dollars a year for childcare up to 8 o’clock. For immigrant families like mine, this was a tremendous lifesaver, for it meant that they were able to afford to work the late hours necessary without worrying about their child. Looking back, my time spent at the West End House played a huge role in building my character and allowing me to dare to make big dreams and aspirations.

Now, my family is in a much better place than we were when we arrived a little over 13 years ago. They say that a life is defined by its experiences, and for me, the West End House definitely left a large mark on mine. This is what made me decide that I wanted to do the same for others, to change others’ lives, now that I am older and able to give back. Furthermore, from my experiences doing volunteer work and serving others, whether it be teaching Science for Shooting Stars at another Boys and Girls Club or educating the public about the Cahner’s Computerplace exhibit in the Museum of Science, I have come to realize that, in the process of giving away your efforts and your time, you gain something even better: fulfillment. Serving others not only opens my eyes to the sufferings of others and makes me appreciate my own life more, but also leaves me with the satisfaction that what I am doing truly makes a difference in the lives of others.