In my life, I feel so grateful to have been taught, mentored, and guided, not just by teachers, managers, and coaches, but also by my peers, by students I’ve counseled at camps, and really by anyone who takes the time to listen, learn, and grow with me. This week’s Service Spotlight learned the importance of these strong communities from a young age and is working to make sure every young person has the same experience of a strong support system.
Though a mutual friend, I was connected to Gwendolyn Langi, a junior at Van Nuys High School in the San Fernando Valley and the founder of Empower Today Lead Tomorrow. I am so impressed with her work and so excited to share her story here.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a ‘Happiness is.’
Gwendolyn: Happiness is definitely subjective; happiness can be anything. I think the best way to describe happiness, in which everyone can relate, is a breath of fresh air. Happiness is relief, a breath of fresh air, it’s new. For me, making my family proud is what feels like relief for me – whether it’s something small like getting good grades or something bigger like graduating from college one day.
The Positive Alternative Recreation Teambuilding Impact (PARTI) Program has given me many opportunities to have my breath of fresh air and be one for others as well. By connecting me with adults and other students who want to find happiness and share it with others, it’s made me happy because they’ve shown me how great of a potential I have.
Liz: Tell me about your project.
Gwendolyn: “Empower Today Lead Tomorrow” focuses on raising awareness and strengthening support for first generation, low-income and immigrant students. I want these students to know that failure could never be written in their future. I want them to feel “supported and celebrated” as the PARTI always says. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the feeling of support and celebration from adults and other students through the PARTI program, through a program I’m in called Campbell Scholars and from a club at school called First Gen Empowerment. So I know how necessary and valuable a strong support system means to these struggling students. It can take them a long way.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Gwendolyn: The driving force behind what I do is experience. Being a first gen student myself, I’ve experienced how it feels to doubt yourself and ask “Am I doing this right? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” The PARTI program has provided me with unconditional support by introducing me to adults and students who’ve made me feel that me and my visions for our communities are heard, seen and understood. Knowing I have an abundant amount of people behind me motivates me and I want to be able to ensure that other kids like me get to experience that sense of support as well.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
Gwendolyn: To me service means being someone to turn to in a time of need. No conditions, no paybacks or expecting something in return. Service is being there for someone because you know it’s the right thing to do.
Liz: How can others get involved or support your work?
Gwendolyn: You can support me and many other students by following PARTI on Facebook or visiting their website to make a donation. We are still continuing to find volunteering and service opportunities during this difficult time and if you are interested we would be more than happy to have you contact us!
Liz: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Gwendolyn: Remember to be kind to others during this time and more importantly be kind to yourself!
Liz: Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice to leave us with?
Gwendolyn: My favourite piece of advice is from author Zadie Smith: “Progress is never permanent. It will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.”