Ashuka Xue joined Asian Americans Advancing Justice -LA (Advancing Justice-LA) Health Access Project (HAP) in the summer of 2014. As an engineering student with over 500 hours of high school community service under her belt, Ashuka’s application, background, and effervescent personality helped her stand out as a candidate. In particular, we took note of one tidbit of information she shared in her cover letter: “Working for years with Microsoft Office has made creating Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations fairly relaxing tasks.” Given the HAP team’s significant reporting requirements (due to the number and complexity of grants), we jumped at the opportunity to hire Ashuka, especially since much of our reporting work involved activities she found relaxing!
In addition to becoming trained as one of our Covered California certified enrollment counselors, Ashuka proved indispensable to improving the way the HAP team works and approaches grant reporting. From developing an internal listserv to improve communication, to creating a joint inbox where all our team members correspond with our 60 Health Justice Network partners, the most valuable assist came with streamlining the way we collected and calculated information for various projects. Ashuka’s quick thinking and tech savvy saved our team over 50 hours of work per month and laid the groundwork for developing a reporting database that we use to this day.
This past summer, two years after her internship, we hired Ashuka as a consultant to update our reporting database and create training materials for new users. Ashuka’s flexibility, adaptability responding to changing situations and needs around the project, attention to detail, and troubleshooting prowess have greatly improved how the HAP team operates and works with its statewide partners. She is proof that interns can play incredibly valuable roles in organizations.
How did you learn about Advancing Justice - LA?
I first heard of Advancing Justice - LA back when it was still known as Asian Pacific American Legal Center, through courses at Harvey Mudd College. I learned about the legal work they had done for the Asian American community, involving sweatshop workers and undocumented immigrants, and came to know the organization as an LA non-profit that did a lot of legal work for those who did not have the ability to speak for themselves.
What prompted you to get involved?
For as long as I can remember, I have loved helping others - doing volunteer work and engaging with the community is something that I've always gravitated towards. In the spring of my sophomore year at Harvey Mudd College, I took a course called Asian American Women’s Experience. While not all of the information taught was new to me, the way that the information was presented -- about sweatshop workers, illegal immigrants, work that Advancing Justice - LA did back when it was known as APALC -- really struck a chord. So when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to come and work as an intern for Advancing Justice - LA.
What have you learned or how have you been affected personally by your experience as an Advancing Justice - LA volunteer?
I have done a lot of volunteer work in the past, yet somehow have never worked with a non-profit before, so it was really an interesting experience getting to do so at Advancing Justice. Working with the team, seeing other interns doing legal work, going to trainings, attending staff and team meetings, and working directly with the community really allowed me to get a better grasp of the scope of what Advancing Justice - LA does. I also gained a much stronger understanding of how much work is needed on the “back end” in the office, for everything to run smoothly. It's really admirable to me how much overtime the staff are willing to put into everything ranging from talking with community members to pulling reports and doing translations.
Do you have an inspirational story you can briefly tell about your experience volunteering?
I remember near the beginning of my internship, I went with one of the HAP staff to the library to conduct a workshop on understanding Medi-Cal and its benefits, and to hold office hours for Chinese-speaking community members. At the time, I didn't have a lot of confidence in being able to accurately translate some of the terms into Mandarin so I spent most of my time observing from the back. During office hours, I asked attendees how they were doing and whether they had any questions, and then I directed them to the HAP staff. Watching [the staff member] work with the clients and seeing how the clients left smiling and thankful really made me want to be someone who can make that sort of impact. It wasn’t just about giving them the information, she was making sure that she answered all the questions they had and making sure that their needs were being met.
What advice would you give other individuals who want to participate in volunteer or pro bono work?
I have two pieces of advice for potential volunteers:
First, don't go into volunteer work thinking you know exactly what you are going to do. Volunteer work changes almost daily, and it's not always about having a set schedule or assignment. You usually end up wherever you can help out best in the current circumstance. For example, I started my summer internship thinking I was going to be doing direct services, working with non-English speaking clients. In the end, a lot of the work I did was in the office, because I made the most impact there, helping to lighten some of the workload for HAP team members.
Second, on a related note, volunteering should be about creating a lasting positive impact for those in need. When you volunteer, you should listen to the community. Volunteering is not merely about how you want to help those who do not have the same opportunities, or whose circumstances are worse than yours. It’s not just about being doing what you think is right. For further reading on this concept, I would recommend reading a 1968 speech by Ivan Illich called “To Hell with Good Intentions” (http://www.swaraj.org/illich_hell.htm).
Volunteers are important members of the Advancing Justice - LA family. We have pro bono opportunities for attorneys and professional interpreters; volunteer opportunities for all community members, and internships for students seeking professional experience. To be added to Advancing Justice - LA's volunteer database, and to receive periodic emails regarding volunteer opportunities, please complete this form.