Think Locally, Act Globally: Tzu Chi Young Leaders Across the U.S. Rack Up 600 Service Hours in Their Communities

Greater Washington D.C. , Midwest , National Headquarters , Northeast , Northwest , Southern  |  May 2, 2022
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Tzu Ching from University of California, Irvine head to Huntington Beach to clean up litter and help stop ocean pollution. Photo: Anteaters Tzu Ching

Written by: Maggie Morgan

April 9-10 marked a celebration of massive proportions as the 2022 Tzu Chi Annual Community Weekend ensued. A total of 19 Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (TCCA) chapters across the United States organized synchronous events of all shapes and sizes. Volunteers gathered to unite and serve together, no matter how far apart their physical location was. The event was powered by Tzu Chi USA, and all TCCA clubs and alumni from all over the country utilized the opportunity to help their local communities while demonstrating the spirit of “Youth in Action.”

Tzu Chi Young Leaders is a network of college students and young professionals whose mission is a branch from the tree first rooted in 1966 by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. The volunteers function under the same belief system and notions that were first founded as the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, giving them the chance to get an early start on a life full of love and learning. As Dharma Master Cheng once said “A person with a generous heart and compassion for all beings leads the most blessed life.” These Young Leaders have begun their path of service and a blessed life in their young adulthoods.

The purpose of joining as a student or a young professional is to get together for social service events, leadership opportunities, and to make like-minded networking connections. There are opportunities to become part of formal college clubs umbrellaed under the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association, also referred to as TCCA or Tzu Ching members signifying they’re Tzu Chi volunteers at the college-level.

This particular April weekend was epic for the TCCA as each chapter had the chance to submit an idea for approval; the innovative coast-to-coast endeavor inspired 16 different altruistic affairs. Some volunteers held food distributions while others got in the spirit for Earth Day and opted for nature cleanups in their communities.

Young leaders got creative and took their charitable giving to places they knew would be joyous; one chapter even went to a nursing home to perform a concert for residents. Over the course of the spring weekend, more than 300 volunteers arrived to work at their local service events.

Getting Competitive, Vegetarian Style

TCCA members hailing from Emory University and Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia drew their vision from pop culture with The Veggie Iron Chef. The day was twice as nice as it marked the opening event of Tzu Chi Atlanta’s newly constructed office building.

The friendly competition brought together 40 participants who were challenged to cook delectable dishes while promoting the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet. Tzu Chi’s Young Leaders mirror the motivations of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation; the Very Veggie Movement is an effort to spread awareness about the benefits of committing to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Chefs-in-the-making showed their stuff at TCCA Emory’s Veggie Iron Chef competition. Photo: Emory University Tzu Ching

The Clean Streets of Seattle

A few of the Annual Community Weekend events caught the eye of passersby. University of Washington’s TCCA chose to host a Spring Street Cleaning around U District Station in Seattle and were delightfully surprised that “many pedestrians stopped to say thank you to [them] while [they] cleaned the streets.” Volunteers were savvy using their platform as they took the opportunity to introduce both Tzu Ching (TCCA) and Tzu Chi. Part of the work of widening the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s circle of compassion is about gaining visibility and forming good relationships with members of the community.

Hanna, a member of UW’s TCCA chapter, was happy to have such a direct hand in giving back to her community. She said the event was especially meaningful to her as she got to clean the streets that the community and students are active in every day. Hanna found the effort to be therapeutic; even if she was picking up trash, she was able to see the direct results of hard work. The student noted how special the experience was in that it builds and deepens the connections within neighborhoods.

Members of UW’s TCCA take time to give their local streets some spring cleaning. Photo: UW Tzu Ching

Earth Day Should Be Every Day

The TCCA chapter from UC Riverside gave back to Mother Nature as they organized a Nature Cleanup event. Volunteers gave some spring cleaning to California’s Mount Rubidoux as they picked up litter along the lush nature trails. TCCA members reflected on meeting several hikers who expressed their gratitude for the students’ hard work. 

The friendly small talk sparked more conversation about Tzu Chi’s missions and values, which volunteers were eager to gab about. One man was especially moved as he went out of his way to roll up his sleeves alongside volunteers, collecting trash as he moseyed along the trail. 

TCCA members from UC Riverside got some sunshine as they tidied up Mount Robidoux’s nature trails. Photo: UCR Tzu Ching

Hope, But Make It Hand-Delivered

Tzu Chi Chicago’s TCCA also had more than one reason to celebrate as their Annual Community Weekend Event was the first in-person gathering since the pandemic. Many of the volunteers were working their very first Tzu Chi event, and were thrilled to participate. The Chicago Young Leaders chose to create 53 hand-made cards for patients receiving hospice care at Kindred Health. Sister Lixin Zheng, a Young Professional volunteer, picked up three students from the downtown Chicago area to attend the card-making event, driving 50 minutes one-way to connect with other team members. Two of the students had not been to the Tzu Chi office before, and were elated to join with Sister Lixin’s help. Sister Lixin noted how grateful she was to be a part of such a thoughtful event. 

Given her work experience as a chaplain at the hospital, Sister Lixin knows first-hand how difficult it is for a terminally-ill patient and their family to deal with the inevitable loss. She was glad to have been able to join Tzu Ching in putting together decorative notes for those who would be touched by the small gesture. The colorful cards were made with a lot of love and intention, blessing those who are suffering and offering words of encouragement.

The event closed in a beautiful manner with the volunteers holding a prayer session; TCCA Chicago focused on praying for the health of the hospice patients and a harmonious, connected community.

Members of Chicago’s TCCA hand-made cards for hospice patients. Photo: TCCA Chicago

One Day, Countless Connections

Summing Up Each Chapter’s Event

With the same spirit of compassion stringing them as one across the country, 19 chapters organized 16 events, with New York’s region holding a joint event by 4 different chapters. Together, TCCA members logged a total of over 600 service hours as they worked in their respective communities. Their imaginative ideas transformed into successful events that came in all shapes and sizes. Each event paid homage to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s Global Footprints.

Get inspired by reading more about the other TCCA teams’ events and what they had to say about them.

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: We chose to host this particular service event as many chapters have not been able to hold in-person events since the pandemic started. Many chapters and their members have never done this type of event before.

Members of TCCA’s Northeast Region chapters plant trees to reinvigorate the environment. Photo: TCCA Northeast

Washington DC chapter – Trail Cleanup in Washington, DC

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: One of our traditions to celebrate the Earth Day every Spring is to host an environmental cleanup. We thought this Community Weekend would be the perfect opportunity to gather Tzu Ching volunteers and alumni together for this fun tradition.

TCCA members out of Washington DC opted to clean up nature trails which honored an annual tradition. Photo: TCCA Washington DC

TCCA Ohio State University (OSU) – Park Cleaning in Columbus, OH

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: It is an outdoor event and more COVID-safe, plus we could take advantage of the improving weather. More importantly, it emphasizes our very important environmental mission while also being really fun to do.

OSU’s TCCA headed to their local park to clean up litter and get outside. Photo: OSU Tzu Ching

TCCA University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) - Street Cleaning in Champaign, IL

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: This is a new volunteering activity that attracts a lot of young volunteers in TCCA. We would like to take this opportunity to unite the members and hopefully get attention to the community. The most important part is to educate people in the community that we can do something great for our environment easily.

A few members of UIUC’s TCCA proudly hold their chapter’s banner. Photo: TCCA at UIUC

Minnesota Tzu Chi Service Center partnered with UMN students- Hot Meal Service for the Homeless at Simpson Shelter in Minneapolis, MN

While there isn’t currently an active TCCA chapter at UMN, the Minnesota Tzu Chi Service Center is very interested in establishing a local chapter. The team thought the Annual Community Weekend would be a good opportunity to introduce potential leaders to the program, so they invited a few students from UMN to the Simpson Shelter. The intention was to motivate young volunteers to found a chapter on campus and bring the Tzu Chi message to yet another institution.

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: It provides a lot of activities inside, from shopping, food preparation, cooking, plating, serving, and cleaning. Most of the young people like to help in the kitchen, they can express their hobby or learn how to cook vegetarian food.

Simpson Shelter was filled with the aroma of hot meals and the spirit of gratitude as volunteers served community members. Photo: TCCA Minnesota

TCCA University of Texas, Austin - Food Distribution at the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, TX

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: We believe it’s a worthwhile cause that significantly helps our local community. Hunger affects many people around the world, in our country, and in our locality; many of those affected by food insecurity have been facing even tougher times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By working with the Central Texas Food Bank, we want to be able to make a direct impact in our community and help ensure more families have access to fresh, nutritious food.

Volunteers prepare supplies for a busy day ahead at the Central Texas Food Bank. Photo: TCCA UT Austin

TCCA Texas A & M Univeristy (TAMU) - Lampstand Nursing Home Concert in Bryan, TX

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: The elders at the Nursing Home are usually a little lonely or bored…so they will usually thank us for conversation, and it’s pleasant to talk to them because they are so open to conversation and they have a lot of life experience. 

Talented volunteers provided some comfort in the form of music for nursing home residents. Photo: TCCA - TAMU

TCCA University of California, Davis - Food Distribution with River City Food Bank in Sacramento, CA

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: Not only do we get to wake up early on a nice morning, but we also get to go out and help those who may need a little support to get by. By helping out the local community, we can show Tzu Chi’s and our commitment to showing love, respect, and gratitude and treating everyone with the respect they deserve.

Volunteers gather to hand out food supplies to those in need. Photo: TCCA at UC Davis

TCCA Stanford University - Goodie Bags for Service Workers in Stanford, CA

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: The service workers on campus have jobs that are essential and often overlooked in higher education settings. Our campus workers make Stanford a home for students, and we wanted to give them goodie bags as a small token of our appreciation.

Members from Stanford’s TCCA prepared dozens of goodie bags to thank service workers on campus.

TCCA University of California, Irvine (UCI) - Anteaters Tzu Ching Beach Clean Up in Huntington Beach, CA

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: A lot of non-biodegradable trash finds its way into the oceans and beaches every year. It is important for our members to gain hands-on experience in cleaning up our environment to fully grasp how much our waste is impacting our environment and the organisms that live in it. We strive to encourage members to look for more environmentally friendly alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint through events such as this.

UCI’s TCCA team cleans up the beaches to contribute to saving the oceans. Photo: Anteaters Tzu Ching

TCCA California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) - Beach Cleanup in Seal Beach, CA

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: Our university’s campus is located near the beach. We wanted to bring something that would show relatedness to our university and a global current event. We believe that this Beach Cleanup contributes to the efforts of other volunteers that show unstoppable courage to preserve our planet, protect our health, families, and neighborhood. Our goal is to highlight, whether it is a small or big event, that together we can make a difference.

CSULB Tzu Ching hit the local beach and picked up litter along the oceanfront. Photo: CSULB Tzu Ching

TCCA University of Maryland (UMD) - Gardening at the Arboretum in College Park, MD

Q: Why did you choose your event?

A: We are able to connect back to the environment surrounding our local communities and get to talk with our landscape management staff, learning about plant history both on the UMD campus and around Maryland at large. Our members have a fun time getting a bit dirty, and our hard work on the campus flora is always appreciated by staff and community members.

Students from UMD's TCCA decided to ground themselves with gardening at College Park's Arboretum.

Spirited Giving That Spread Like Sunshine

The joint effort of our volunteers—from Tzu Ching and alumni to advisors and even thoughtful, kind-hearted strangers—is what made the idea of the very first Annual Community Weekend not only possible, but wildly successful. TCCA not only exemplified what it means to “Unite and Serving Together “, but they unwittingly taught strangers the very same concept.

As one member of TCCA’s Washington DC chapter commented, “It is a blessing to not only serve alongside one another but to also join hands with community partners in the process of compassionate giving. We are stronger together, and the power of love shines brightest when we give together.”

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