“Why would I work for free?”

By Sherry Wong

As an ABC (American-Born Chinese), my parents hardly talked about community service  or its personal value. Growing up poor, my parents were more concerned about putting food on the table and making rent than helping others. The times that I did hear about community service, I got the impression it was for punishing celebrities – e.g. Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell and Snoop Dogg. “I don’t want to do community service. Can’t I just donate money?” That is what I used to say until my Service Learning course – MGT 524 – enlightened me.

I currently tutor a young lady from Thailand through LAPL’s Adult Literacy Program. Since English is her second language and she wants to attend an American university, she is required to take the TOEFL iBT test – it measures a person’s ability to use and understand English at the university level and it evaluates how well you combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. I have been working with my Thai student for about seven weeks now and her English-speaking progress is evident.

I learned that community service is not just court-mandated for naughty celebrities. I
learned community service is not simply about donating money. I learned through my
Service Learning experience that community service is about giving back (time) and
paying it forward. I attended Los Angeles public schools and I remember every teacher
who helped me succeed along the way. Their kindness compelled me to give that same
time and focus back to my Thai student. When my Thai student and I started working
together seven weeks ago, she was very quiet and timid. Now she is incredibly talkative
and humorous while doing it all in English. I know I am making a difference and there is
no better feeling.