Serving the Community

By Taylor Weik
Staff Writer

The childlike feeling of giddiness that rises in your chest come Christmas morning when you peer under the tree and gaze at all of the wrapped gifts waiting for you — is there a better feeling than receiving?

Coming home from a long day of classes and work to a delicious hot meal that you’re sure to take seconds of — can you do anything to thank those who helped prepare it? Or even walking through a park and noticing the consistency of trash and littering — can you do something about it? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Yes, there is a better feeling than receiving, it’s giving. Yes, you can thank the producers by producing for others, too. Yes, you can do something about it by going out and actually doing it. All of these things can be done through a single motion: volunteering.

Community service has always been more than something you do to make your college applications look presentable. Everyone who volunteers has their own reasons for doing it, whether it is the desire to get more involved in their home community or simply just because they love helping others. And what’s even better, there are countless opportunities and an abundance of different ways you can commit yourself based on your own interests.

If you’re the kind of person who loves shopping and organization, you’d be the ideal Salvation Army volunteer to fold and organize clothes for those who need them. If you’re an animal lover, you can walk dogs or feed cats at your local pound. Sure, community service looks good on your applications and resumes, but you’ll find that once you become involved, it’s the experiences and feelings that will keep you coming back for more.

One such “addicted” volunteer is Karen Truong, a third-year public health science major who happens to be a part of Circle K International, the largest community service organization here at UC Irvine. Giving back to the community comes naturally to Karen who has been actively volunteering since elementary school.

“I started tagging along with my sister to various community services when I was young because she was in an organization called Young Heroes. I always wanted to be just like her; she’s my role model,” Karen said. “I still remember my first service: rebuilding my local community center’s garden. Gradually I started expanding my horizons and began working at soup kitchens and holiday events, but I wasn’t just doing it for my sister anymore. I fell in love with helping others, but I didn’t realize it at first.”

Karen took a break from volunteering when she entered high school to focus on her schoolwork.

“I stepped back from going out to events all year, but I felt like there was something missing from my life. It was then that I realized volunteering is something I can’t live without. Helping others in any way that I can is what I crave,” Karen said.
Now in her third year at UCI, Karen does all her volunteering through Circle K. When asked about her favorite service event, she immediately responds, “Second Sundays! It’s a service we do every second Sunday of the month. We go to the local wilderness areas around Irvine and remove non-native plants as well as plant new ones. It’s always amazing to see how much you’ve done at the end of the day, and you get a glimpse of what Irvine used to look like before it became industrialized.”

Karen also cites her volunteer background as what led her to declare her public health major. After graduating, she hopes to become a volunteer coordinator at a local organization in addition to acquiring a full-time job.

“My goal is to provide as many opportunities to beautify the community as possible, as well as to inspire kids at an early age to develop a passion for volunteer work. It’s always good to start young, and it helps shape kids into well-rounded adults.”
Karen claims she can’t attribute just one reason why she loves volunteering or why it makes her feel good.

“No one can ever explain the emotions that run through you when you’ve contributed hours of your time to help others in need. The only way you can know is if you do it yourself,” she insists. “Community service has made me into the person I am today, and I am blessed because of it.”