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Volunteer work fulfilling for these Hornets

By Nora Lam

Seniors Kaitlin Owyang, Taylor Owyang and Jamie Fong all have something in common: they work to help children – for free. The Owyangs and Fong are all long-term volunteers who put in hours on end every week. While the Owyangs both volunteer at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Fong volunteers at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Fong started volunteering at the Academy of Sciences his freshman year of high school, a chance opportunity that he immediately took advantage of. His family was at the Academy of Sciences that day when he first saw the carnivorous plants exhibit, and he asked someone to page the person in charge of the exhibit to ask if she wanted a volunteer.

“I noticed she (his boss) liked what I liked. [I like carnivorous plants] because they’re so interesting, so fascinating. They’re able to survive in extreme conditions,” said Fong.

Instead of going through the normal application process, Fong e-mailed his resume to the person in charge of the carnivorous plants exhibit, and he got the position due to his years of experience. Fong grows a variety of plants in his backyard, including carnivorous plants. His passion for science was influenced by this father, who is a science teacher. During the summer, he volunteers for eight hours a day two to three times per week, and during the school-year, he volunteers for eight hours two times per week.

Although the Owyangs have not volunteered as long as Fong has, they both have taken up a long-term commitment to Children’s Hospital. The Owyangs started volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in August 2012, after a tedious application process. Volunteers need two recent tuberculosis skin tests and all immunizations and need to be at least 16 years old. They volunteer once a week for four hours. Taylor has been volunteering at the Sports Medicine Department where she trains new volunteers and observes and helps the therapist. Kaitlin has done an assortment of services such as “Art While You Wait” where she draws with young patients and creating reports for a head doctor.

“It’s a good experience to be exposed to that type of environment,” said Kaitlin.

For both Fong and the Owyangs, their reasons for volunteering grew from a previous interest and curiosity. Fong has always shown a flair for the sciences in high school, taking two AP science classes instead of one this year.

“I’ve always been interested in plants and animals, so I decided to go a step further and do something on a larger scale,” said Fong.

Partly because she herself is an athlete, Taylor is interested in sports medicine and currently takes Alameda High School’s sports medicine class while volunteering at the hospital.

“I was thinking about becoming a therapist or some sort of job in that field,” said Taylor.

While high-school students often groan at the thought of community service, these programs have been rewarding experiences for Fong and the Owyangs. Because of their volunteer-work, they come into contact with and are able to influence various types of people, including children and parents.

“[I enjoy] being able to work with things I’m interested in, make nice exhibits and incite the public to become more interested in science,” said Fong.

For Taylor, her reward is of a different sort from Fong’s.

“[I enjoy] seeing the progress of regular patients and seeing them get better,” said Taylor.

In addition to the gratification of helping others, the Owyangs and Fong have gained skills that they previously would not have the need to learn such as creating exhibits or detailed spreadsheets. Fong jokingly remarked that he has learned “too much to list.” These volunteer experiences have enabled them to find a field of interest that they may want to pursue in college. They also learned the skills necessary in a working environment such as punctuality and organization.

“Always be organized, and don’t mess up,” said Kaitlin, smiling and speaking from her own experience.

Photo courtesy of Nora Lam


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The Oak Leaf, a product of the journalism class, is a vehicle of student expression and a public forum for the Alameda High School community.