Spreading his passion through service
As a second year president of Interact, senior Jonathan Yang has raised over $1200 for End Polio Now and funded approximately 2000 vaccines, uniting the club under the vision of charity. Whether he’s creating new projects or networking with local community leaders, Yang devotes an average of 10 hours a week to fulfilling his passion for bringing together individuals who share the same enthusiasm and vision to serve the community.
His journey with Interact started four years ago.
As a freshman whose brother and cousin had served as vice president and president respectively, Yang initially joined Interact in hopes of carrying on the family legacy.
“I hadn’t really connected with the club yet,” Yang said. “It was, at the time, just a school club; albeit, it was a club with a lot of upperclassmen I looked up to, [and] my family has always been in the club.”
It wasn’t until he became a group leader his sophomore year that Yang was constantly surrounded by positive influences and met a number of people that inspired him to go further with the organization.
At the time, Yang hit a low point in his life. He found it difficult to balance schoolwork with his other priorities, he was struggling with friendships, he started to lose confidence in himself and on top of that, his grandfather was suffering from cancer.
He sought solace in an organization that fosters the support and altruism he needed and found his home in Interact, an international service organization dedicated to providing humanitarian services and advocating for global goodwill and peace.
“I really found and appreciated what Interact really meant by engaging myself in the organization,” Yang said. “It wasn’t some grand attraction to the organization, but a gradual falling in love with everything it represents: youth empowerment and social responsibility.”
He first fell in love with the prospect of actually being able to first-handedly assist the less fortunate when he attended his first Holiday Baskets event as a freshman, where volunteers from Rowland, Diamond Bar, Nogales and Walnut High School packaged and distributed cans to hungry families.
“It was the first time I saw the club in full motion. At a lot of volunteer events, you don’t really see how you’re helping out. At Holiday Baskets it’s a little bit different because you’re actually [helping] the families who need it, who can’t afford daily meals,” Yang said. “It’s such a humbling experience when you see these families getting food. They’re so overwhelmingly grateful.”
His reign in Interact began with his presidency of the club his junior year. Then, he says, the club served primarily as a platform for students to hang out and as a way for members to earn volunteer hours. But Yang wanted the club to mean something much more than a weekly social. He yearned to create a genuine sense of passion for volunteering among the members–the same conviction and compassion that he felt when he was welcomed into his new home.
“I noticed after a while that every time I finished volunteering I’ve always felt incredibly alive,” Yang said. “There’s nothing I think that I’ve ever experienced like volunteering. It’s like time and time again, you really feel alive and come alive as a person.”
As Interact District 5300’s first Governor, Yang currently leads a group of over 2,500 individuals from southern California and southern Nevada in impacting global change through a love for service.
“For the longest time, I tried working by myself to accomplish everything. When things would get done fast enough or to my standard, I’d just end up taking it and doing it myself. While I did get these tasks finished faster or with better quality, it demoralized other people and failed to train them to take on the same task in the future,” Yang said. For the sake of posterity, I’ve learned that as a leader you have to give people the room to fail, grow and learn. This is still something I have to work on as a leader and as an individual.”
Under the leadership and dedication of Yang, the club has managed to accumulate over 2,400 volunteer hours and experienced a 170 percent increase in membership within the span of just one year, asserting its title as one of the most prolific service and global organizations on campus.
“I really think what made Interact grow as a club and as a community is the fact that we brought the passion to the table,” Yang said. “We [formed] a leadership team of people that are incredibly passionate about the organization, and when you have so many people that are so collectively passionate about one thing, [it’s] inevitably going to improve [and] reach its full potential.”
This year, Yang has decided to focus Interact’s International Project on partnering with Solar-Aid to donate solar-powered lights to the less fortunate in developing countries and to give children in developing countries a chance to pursue an education.
“Working with Interact, Solar-Aid and all these different non-profit organizations really shows me that people really care about it. They really put their heart and effort into it,” Yang said.
Among his myriad of achievements, perhaps Yang’s most notable event was InterKey’s second annual charity dinner New Heights–the grand product of two months of tedious planning. In his closing speech, he challenged his peers to make a difference in the world, his genuine passion and conviction for youth empowerment evident as his booming voice radiated throughout the multitudes of people.
“What we’re really trying to communicate through this dinner is the power of the youth, the belief that we can make a difference as a generation,” Yang said. “I challenge every single person here to take this in their lives and make this world the world you want to see. InterKey, do you accept this challenge?”
Though his four years with Interact is coming to an end, Yang is committed to continue living his lifelong passion by someday working for a non-profit organization. From raising $1200 towards End Polio Now to funding 8000 vaccine doses, his service to the community has only just begun.
“What’s really remarkable about Interact is how genuine people are about youth empowerment, social responsibility, and socioeconomic change,” Yang said. “It’s because I’ve been introduced to this community that I have come to be a believer in these grand, romantic gestures of social change.”
By Sophia Ding, Feature editor
Photo by Elaine Liu