Why giving back to the community locally and internationally matters

Liana Dong

Staff Writer

     Look out for yourself. It’s a sentiment that most people hear from a very young age and take to heart, dedicating their entire lives to personal success in a cutthroat education and job market. In a society so focused on doing just that, many forget to give back to others and the community that raised them. Alicia Chen (12) strives to serve her community as a member of Interact’s District Council and Fremont Unified School District’s SURFBoardE.

     As an Outreach Coordinator for Interact 5170, the largest and most prolific district of the worldwide service club, Chen takes a hands-on approach to achieving Interact’s goals.

      Soha Manzoor, District Governor and senior at James Logan High School, explains, “Interact will always be guided by our motto, service above self. We strive to create a positive environment for all members to give back to their communities! . . . Our international project this year is Build for Tomorrow and we are raising money to build schools in Nicaragua, while our community project is Recovery Through Resilience as we raise awareness and education toward the issue of substance abuse.”

     Chen works with her co, Monta Vista High School senior Shreya Guha, to complete the responsibilities required for their role.

     “In short, we handle chartering of new schools, facilitating Rotaract stay overs at Cal, Santa Cruz, and Davis, and working with middle schoolers,” Guha explains. “We have calls with each other and our advisors to go over our goals, progress, and any obstacles. We usually divide the work in half, or assign one person to do it and then the other will do it next time, just communicating our own needs to make sure we accomplish what is required of us.”

Students from around the Bay Area congregate in the gym of Independence High School for the year’s largest Interact event, Fall Leadership Conference. District Council sits in the center of the floor in order to present the annual projects that Interact will be raising money for.

     For Chen, participating in District Council is worthwhile despite how much of herself she must invest in the group. 

     “Before I was on District Council, I was pretty naïve in terms of how much time I would need to dedicate to the team. However, after meeting each person and having spent time with them, I quickly realized the caliber of how much happiness it brought me,” she explains. “I know it is extremely overused, but when you love something, you find time to do it. Being on District Council has really improved the quality of my life, and it’s become integral to my routine. I would say I am motivated by my love for service, but what keeps me going is seeing how full of joy everyone is after each event, because it solidifies that our work is important and benefits the community in a multifaceted way.

      Divya Kunisetty (12), director of Area 4, mirrors a similar sentiment.

      “I am motivated to participate in DC when I see the impact of our hard work and effort. As a single entity, it’s hard to make a significant impact, but when we come together as a whole, we’re able to take huge strides in serving our community and international projects,” she explains. 

      For DC advisor Jimmy Nguyen, Chen’s growth paints her as an extremely promising individual. 

     “Out of all the students I worked with in DC and Interact, I can honestly say that Alicia has some of the strongest potential I’ve seen,” he explains. “I’ve seen her accomplish a lot of amazing things, and I know that she will continue to find success in college. She’s the kind of person that when you work with her, you want to try harder and improve yourself too. I think she’ll continue to do big things and accomplish every goal she has set for herself, without a doubt. To be honest, I can say that people who get to work with Alicia in the future are lucky, because they’re getting someone who will go above and beyond every time.”

     Guha shares a similar appreciation for Alicia through their months of partnership.

     “What can I say about this girl other than she is an amazing human! She is the perfect mix of funny, quirky, smart, hardworking, and chill,” she says. “I have always been able to be myself around her and I am so glad that she is my co, because this experience would not have been the same without her. She is the best hype woman, the sweetest sister, and kindest soul. We have definitely grown as a pair and I am so appreciative of that!”

      Along with serving for Interact, Chen also participates in SURFBoardE, the student organization responsible for sharing student input with FUSD.

     “Among other community groups under the support of the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD), the student body is largely impacted by every district decision,” Chairperson Karen Li explains. “SURFBoardE is an official student representative organization at the district, composed of three student representatives from each secondary level school. This student group meets bi-monthly and serves as a liaison between 35,000 students and the Board of Education.”

     Fellow representative Rachana Aithal (10) is one of three American High students that contribute to SURFBoardE.

     “I chose to join SURFBoardE because I strongly believe in the power of the student voice in shaping the very fabric of our district,” she explains. “Alicia and I are both representatives for American. Along with Lavanya, we work together on any site-specific assignments we have been given, and we work to effectively represent our student body.”

     Through their work, student representatives of SURFBoardE effectively communicate peer concerns in a way few others can. 

     “Every member understands a unique part of their community; thus they are able to provide different perspectives on student concerns regarding our learning environment. When we need to conduct outreach to understand individual opinions about district policies such as GATE testing or our school calendar, SURF representatives like Alicia branch out to contact peers from student groups ranging from English learners to AP students to student athletes.”

      For Alicia, her future in service is far from over even as her high school career ends.

     “Although my plans for the future are not yet set in stone, I still hope to give back to the community in ways that are beneficial and spark inspiration for younger kids,” she explains. “On the larger scale of things, a big goal I have is to partner with philanthropic associations and spread awareness for causes that may get less attention. However, on a smaller scale, I strive to be kind to those around me, creating a ripple effect that will amount to a much greater scale and impact.”

President’s Winter Retreat, an overnight event planned and executed by the members of District Council, involves leadership workshops and attendee bonding. Students are sorted into expertly named teams to spend their weekend with. 

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