My name is Helene and I’m an intern at SEACA. In the beginning, the relationship with SEACA started when they presented to my class in my freshman year of high school about the Youth Leadership Program (YLP). And since most of my year was going to attend their open house, I wanted to go as well. So I promised that I would join in the Spring, after finishing another commitment. I had nothing to lose by going to one meeting. Ironically by the time I did join YLP most of the people I knew from school had jumped ship. So going to SEACA forced me to meet new people. Honestly, it took me a while, but we slowly got to know each other. And it was these same 5-7 new friends that I kept seeing at SEACA. Of course, there were plenty of people that came and went, but that was our nucleus.
After joining YLP for that semester it seemed Youth Organizer (YO) was the logical next step. It’s what everyone else I met at YLP was doing so, why not? After all, I looked forward to enjoying their company every week. We always had a good laugh in between topics, loopy after a long day at school and commuting. And in my sophomore year, I still found myself coming to SEACA even as classes and activities demanded more from me. It was a safe space for me to be my goofy self when it felt like I had to be an adult everywhere else.
During my time at SEACA, I’ve learned through experiences and conversations at our weekly meetings. About community problems that were always there but I could never name, such as gentrification. And by learning techniques like advocating for our community’s needs, we tried to solve them and build a better community through compassion. One way I learned that was by understanding the vast diversity of experiences and perspectives of humans. Because of SEACA, I got to go to a summit in New York, representing them among hundreds of people from across the country, and talk about our work against gentrification. I even led a meeting with a smaller group of peers. That trip taught me hands-on facilitating and communication, something I’m not sure where else I could get. Plus a free plane ride to New York in the summer. And it’s a highlight of my time with SEACA. But even the small experiences like phone banking, door-to-door surveying, and listening to peers have grown me into a more compassionate person today.
Another factor for my growth was the environment that SEACA created, it was so understanding and non-judgemental. They fed and listened to a group of high schoolers’ problems every week. They took me in after high school, when I reached out, looking for a job for my gap year. They are accommodating to my working schedule and conditions. They pay me well for this internship, which I don’t take for granted as a recent high school graduate. SEACA genuinely cares about the youth in the Chinatown community, and I’m a prime example of that.
That has genuinely been true through the pandemic where it’s clear that so many people in our neighborhoods are susceptible to uncontrollable events like COVID. That’s why the work we do at SEACA is so important. We’ve been able to make an immediate change by assisting families with rent assistance, providing groceries, and COVID supplies. That’s truly helping those who are most vulnerable in Chinatown currently at SEACA. But that doesn’t make the youth or advocating work we also do any less important. The pandemic has made everyone’s lives difficult but also led to this unique opportunity for me to be a part of this important work. It is a big reason why I decided to take a gap year and thus get to do this internship with SEACA. And it has allowed me to do community work in a different way than I have before. I’ve participated in public testimonies to get actions that SEACA believes in passed. Now I’m assisting in helping with research that will be used to help fight gentrification. And most importantly, I’ve become a leader and a teacher of the same programming I was taught not too long ago.
And to speak more about this internship, I started as an outreach coordinator/high school liaison. I was focused on recruiting students from Downtown Magnets, my former school. So I used my contacts to build a list of teachers, then reached out to schedule times for me to do a sales pitch to their students over zoom. From there I presented to over 20 classes in 2 weeks. Then I moved on to producing and editing social media content. I worked on multiple series of posts. Including one for promoting retainment and another about our Community Pact. Then I led and planned a full YO Meeting plus our summer retreat. I’ve certainly gained a ton of work experience, working and connecting with adults and youth alike. And I’m truly getting that internship experience, doing a bunch of little jobs in between everything I’ve listed.
So if you’re interested in any of the experiences I mentioned above, my advice to youth who want to get into community work is just to try it. Just sign up with SEACA or any other community organization and go to one meeting. Come open to learning and having these experiences. And from there, it’s your choice. All it’ll cost you is 2 hours.
In fact, that’s the mindset I will be using as I move on to college. I’ve been committed to Pomona College for nearly 2 years now. This gap year wasn’t the plan but I have enjoyed it. I’m grateful that everyone at SEACA has helped me through this year. Now I’m just looking forward to starting college and moving into the next part of my life. But I’ll never forget what SEACA has been able to do for me in this chapter. Thank you to everyone at SEACA for supporting me through this journey.