Giva Scholarship & Community Ambassador Award Winner Essay Series: Joseph Lee - Finding My Identity

Giva is proud to showcase the essays of its Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award winners. Below is an essay from Joseph Lee, Rush Medical College. Giva's hope is to inspire others through these essays. We hope that sharing these essays will help others realize the joys and benefits of service.

Joseph Lee - Finding my Identity

Every day we make a decision about living for the betterment of ourselves or the betterment of others. It is not a simple decision, beginning with the discovery of our own identities. This path of self-discovery has led me to conclude that being Korean American is an unfathomable blessing, requiring that I grant that pursuit of happiness to others. Ultimately, this passion drives me into a career of service, which extends far beyond the reach of the hospital floors, and is a message that I hope to spread across the globe.

The moment I first realized I was different was in the gang-infested streets of Chicago, IL. Born to two Korean immigrant parents, my family was unable to find safer residence. And as a young boy, area bullies would harass me because I looked different. At school, students slanted their eyes and said "ching-chong," while teachers asked "where are you 'really' from." Consequently, I matriculated into high school feeling like a perpetual foreigner. Slowly, I started to wish I was not Korean, refused to speak the language, and even tried make my eyes bigger by stretching them. Two trips to my motherland, however, would change my life forever, and lead me toward a path of identity creation as author Thomas Szasz stated "...the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates."

Prior to my freshman year of college, I visited South Korea for the first time. From the moment my feet touched the grounds of Incheon Airport, I experienced a completely novel sensation: belongingness. Over the next month, I began to realize the privilege of being Korean American, embracing both my Korean heritage and my American upbringing. With such newfound devotion, I enrolled in Korean language immersion classes, earned an Asian American studies minor; and wrote a Senior Honor's Thesis on bicultural Asian Americans while at Northwestern University.

Nevertheless, the best was still to come through a conference titled Young Generation Forum in Daegu, Korea hosted by the Korean American Scientists and Engineers Association. It was through learning of the Hyundai and POSCO Corporations that I grasped the extent to which our Korean forefathers sacrificed, and it was then that I realized that I, too, must serve the Korean community. And I have and continue to do so through my work with the Korean American Community Services, Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the Asian Health Coalition. Further, I educate young people about the journey of finding ones Asian American identity through avenues such as the Young Generation Technical Leadership Conference (YGTLC) in San Francisco, FOB: Reflections of an Asian American Life Beyond Northwestern in Evanston, and Illinois Lieutenant Governor Candidate, Steven Kim's Fundraising Gala in Chicago.

With that said, we must not limit our impact on society to the Korean Community alone, but look beyond our own people and the borders of our nation as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace..." I have tried to instill such truths of service in my life, first as a teacher to poor, Black 7th and 8th grade students at Parkside Community Academy in the south side of Chicago, Illinois. And while teaching has been the most difficult endeavor I have embarked on in my life thus far, it has also been the most valuable. Every day I wake with a new sense of purpose in life - to aid others in times of distress. This ambition has motivated me to pursue a career as a physician who treats people in impoverished communities with care and compassion.

Locally, Habitat for Humanity has enabled me to provide affordable, adequate housing to those in need. And through the non for profit I created, the Road Less Traveled Fund, I am able to purchase vehicles for community changers in need of safe transportation. At an international level, organizations such as Invisible Children in Uganda, the Good Shepherd's Orphanage in Haiti, and the Health Development Initiative in Rwanda have provided a means to which my efforts can impact lives outside the comforts of my own home country.

Mere words cannot begin to capture all that has happened in my journey of self-discovery as a Korean and American. And while I have learned many lessons along the way, the one I wish to implement and share is this: "The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all" (Leo Reostein).

Giva Student Scholarship & Worldwide Community Ambassador Winner Essay Series: Shila Vardell

Giva is proud to showcase the essays of its Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award winners. Below is an essay from Shila Vardell, University of Phoenix. Giva's hope is to inspire others through these essays. The Essay question was, "How will you use your talents and education to make the world a better place for future generations? What are your career and personal goals and why?" We hope that sharing these essays will help others realize the joys and benefits of service. Congratulations to Shila Vardell!

Giva Scholarship Winning Essay

By Shila Vardell:

First let me take a moment to thank Giva for the scholarship that I was awarded.  Giva's scholarship program has the backing and full support of Ron Avignone, founder of Giva.  Mr. Avignone called me to congratulate me and we had a long and thoughtful conversation on why volunteer service has been so important to his personal development. The objective of writing about my service experiences is to influence others to realize the very tangible personal benefits of volunteerism. In Ron Avignone's words, he says, "You really can't give anything away", meaning that the benefits of volunteerism are that the work we do teaches us valuable life lessons and also benefits us in ways that are often multiplied many times over!!  I'm also grateful for working with a dedicated group of Altruism and Community outreach leaders at Giva who are committed to changing the world in impactful ways.

The following is my essay:

Have you ever taken the time to sit back and think about the future? I think about the future quite often. It is scary to think of what the world will be like in a decade or so. There is so much violence and hate going on all over the world. If people would just stop and think about how this violence and hate are going to affect our children they may consider changing. I am a twenty-five year old female and I know that I cannot change the world. However, I know that I can influence the youth in my community and making that little bit of difference is one step closer to making the world a better place.

Over the past six years I have made many life changes. Instead of going out with friends during my spare time, I started focusing on bettering the world and the environment. I did not have a lot of money but I had more motivation than anyone could ever imagine. The first thing I wanted to do was help the less fortunate in my community. I did not have any money so I had to come up with a way to get the people in my community to come together and help. Every day I would post ads on Facebook, Craigslist, and Instagram trying to influence people to donate food and clothing so we could give it to the less fortunate. I collected over 500,000 articles of clothing and over 600,000 canned goods within the past six years.

Once I figured out how to collect donations I wanted to find a way to involve the youth in my community. The majority of the children and teens in my community were involved in gangs. I knew that if someone did not do something, these children would end up on the wrong path in life. I started spreading the word about wanting to get the youth involved in helping me to help the less fortunate. At that time, I had a few family members who were in their teens. I knew that they could help me spread the word at their school. I made fliers for them to pass out at school. After two weeks of constant passing out flyers at schools and malls I actually had teenagers showing up at my door step wanting to help. Every Saturday morning we would make 100 lunches for homeless people and spend the day driving around and handing them out. I would keep my trunk full of clothing so I could supply people with the clothing that they needed in order to survive. This type of volunteer work was a full time job but every time I saw a hungry person get to eat or a cold person get to put on a warm jacket I remembered why I did it. Not only did I get to help the less fortunate, but I also got to keep the youth off the streets and motivated them to be better people.

Currently, I have over 60 teenage volunteers that help me every day. We continue to get donations and pass out food and clothing. It feels so good to be able to say that I am 25 years-old and I am making such a huge difference in my community. These teenagers are on a better path in life than they once were. Instead of being involved in gangs they are involved in helping make their community a better place. In the future, these teenagers will hopefully continue to help others. It is an honor to say that I am helping build a better environment for the future. Our community will no longer be filled with gang violence. It will be filled with motivated individuals who are willing to sacrifice their time to help people in need.

In the past six years I have recruited teenagers from three different cities to help us pass out food and clothing to the needy. It is my goal to expand my donation service to a larger region. We are receiving more donations as more people hear about what we are doing. It would be such a great feeling to be able to influence more teenagers to help us in our fight to make the world a better place.

My career goal is to someday open a non-profit organization where teenagers can come and help the community. I realize that there are many non-profit organizations for teenagers but I want mine to be different. I want teenagers to feel that they are helping the community and doing good for themselves and others. This will inspire them to continue on the right path in life. I enjoy helping others so this is a win win situation. I will help the teenagers get on the right path in life and at the same time we will be helping the less fortunate in our communities.

Giva Student Scholarship & Worldwide Community Ambassador Winner Essay Series: Joseph Lee

Giva is proud to showcase the essays of its Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award winners. Below is an essay from Joseph Lee, Rush Medical College. Giva's hope is to inspire others through these essays. The Essay question was, "How will you use your talents and education to make the world a better place for future generations? What are your career and personal goals and why?" We hope that sharing these essays will help others realize the joys and benefits of service.

Giva Scholarship Winning Essay

By Joseph Lee

I am honored to have been awarded a Giva Scholarship. There are many successful companies like Giva that offer scholarship programs. However, Giva has a commitment to this program which begins with the senior leadership. After I was notified that I won the scholarship, I was told that the Giva founder wanted to have a phone call. I was very surprised!  Ron Avignone, Giva founder, took a strong interest in my journey from teaching to medical school and my accomplishments in volunteer projects. He understood the difficulties my parents faced as immigrants as he recounted the difficulties that his grandparents experienced in coming to America. Mr. Avignone explained the importance that service and volunteering plays in his life and at Giva. Giva is a new breed of corporate citizen; the kind of company that has ideas, solutions and practical ways to make an impact on the world. Thanks and gratitude to Ron Avignone and the Community Volunteerism Team at Giva for having this vision and commitment.

Here is my winning essay:

“Are you coming back tomorrow?”

This was the question my 7th and 8th grade students at Parkside Academy asked me on my first day of teaching. Scarred by teachers who had quit midyear, my students expected the same from me; and as the day progressed, I overheard students hypothesizing how long I would last. Despite the emotional burdens of my 34 students, the heat of an unventilated classroom, and the gaffes of being a first year teacher, I felt an overwhelming sense of hope. This hope was rooted in the belief that through difficult circumstances and the disappointments of failure, there would be a better tomorrow.

President Barack Obama spoke of this hope when he stated, “That is why we fight -- in hopes of a day when we no longer need to.” And in Room 312 at Parkside, continue to fight we did. We fought the failures of a school system that provided insufficient materials. We fought the apathy of parents, victims to the brutal injustices of society. We also fought our own fears of the vulnerability that accompanies loving relationships. It is this love between teacher and student; however, that ultimately inspired us till the end. And while it was a grueling journey, the result was the change of every individual involved.

Unfortunately, the growth of both my students and I through two school years could not overcome the stifling feeling of being unable to impact the lives of my students outside of the classroom or even the teachers they would have in coming school years. I wanted to impact more students which shifted my focus from improving educational outcomes to improving the health outcomes through the field of medicine. And as I continue my training to become a pediatrician, I know that my decision to become a doctor will allow me to continue the work I started in Room 312.

The incredible journey began over 30 years ago, when my newlywed parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea with hopes that their children would experience the “American Dream.” With such idealism in mind, they were not prepared for the immense difficulties they would experience as foreigners without a community to embrace them, a language to empower them, or resources to sustain them. And yet, not only did they survive, they thrived. They thrived through sweat and tears and the kindness of a few guardian angels, who graciously supported my mother and father. And through such generosity, my parents came to the conclusion that helping others was the most important objective in life, a lesson they have tried to instill in my older brother and I our entire lives. Whether it be through allowing immigrant families to live in our home while they got settled in the United States, babysitting sick children whose parents were unable to get days off work, or volunteering to speak to teen moms in jail, my parents go above and beyond in giving of themselves to benefit others. And through their example, my brother and I have striven to do the same.

Initial interest in the medical profession was stirred in high school through a volunteer experience at Northside Learning Center, a school serving students with cognitive disabilities. Students partook in a strenuous schedule of occupational therapy and classroom responsibilities relying heavily on compassionate educators and health professionals. The importance of compassion in healthcare was further exemplified in a medical mission’s trip to Panama and a volunteer stint at the St. Louis Effort for Aids. Traveling through a remote village in Panama, our team was able to treat suffering patients. The gratitude of these villagers revealed the true healing power of medicine. While my eyes were opened to the difficulties of obtaining medical care in Panama, one does not have to cross oceans to behold such troubles. A car ride to St. Louis provided a similar experience of destitution and inadequate treatment of those affected by HIV/AIDS. As I volunteered and conversed with patients and community members, I noticed a similar absence of basic care and education and concluded that caring medical professionals could resolve such circumstances.

Transformed by my students and armed with a new fervor to fight inequality, I see myself at the beginning of a long path of serving the under-served. I strive to become more than just another pediatrician who works in a low income community. Instead, I intend to be a medical professional who understands and cares for the innumerable challenges that confront such communities every day. With that said, I continue to stay involved in the lives of my former students and the community they live in through a non for profit I founded called the Road Less Traveled Fund, which provides safe, reliable modes of transportation for students from low income homes that are investing their time and efforts to better the lives of others. Furthermore, being in medicine has opened more doors to bring about meaningful change, both physically and socially: allowing me to becoming a school council member of a local high school, work for a public health organization in Rwanda, travel with a relief team to Haiti and sit on a board with the CEO of my hospital to increase minority enrollment. By working with families as a health professional, I am now able to offer the assistance articulated in Matthew 25:36 and exemplified by my parents so well, “...I was sick, and you cared for me…” From the suffering villagers in Panama to the poverty-stricken students of Room 312, our communities are sick and left to fend for themselves. Yet, hope persists. Hope persists in the lives of those devoted to service and those that refuse to let life’s circumstances subjugate them to mediocre lives. My aspiration in becoming a pediatrician is to keep that hope alive.

2013 Giva Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award Winners

Giva is pleased to congratulate Joseph Lee and Shila Vardell, 2013 recipients of Giva's Student Scholarship and Worldwide Community Ambassador Award.

Joseph Lee is an MD candidate attending Rush Medical College. "I am truly honored to be chosen as the recipient of the 2013 Giva Scholarship! I believe that there is no better time to give back to the community and those in need than now. I hope that through this scholarship, I can gain inspiration from the commitment of others and serve as an example of the change one committed, passionate individual can make. Thank you again for the amazing opportunity!" said Mr. Lee on receiving the scholarship.

Shila Vardell currently attends the University of Phoenix working towards her Master of Business Administration (MBA), Accounting and Business/Management degree.  When asked about her reaction to the scholarship award Ms. Vardell responded, "Thank you so much for selecting me as the Giva scholarship recipient!  I am overwhelmed with appreciation and excitement. This scholarship is going to help me in so many ways and I cannot express enough how appreciative I am for Giva's generosityand support of this scholarship."

"Giva is excited and proud to engage with and support these students who truly exemplify the absolute best and brightest of this generation in not only their scholastic endeavors, but also in their personal vision and self-motivation to change the world around them. In short, they are the change they want to see in the world," said Ron Avignone, Founder of Giva, Inc.


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