University of Oregon Student Sarah Hsu has a passion for volunteering that will never go away.
By Spencer Gordon
After a seemingly spontaneous move to Portland, Oregon, from Los Angeles, California, life was beginning to spin out of control for Sarah Hsu. “My childhood was spent in front of the mirror playing Monopoly by myself,” she said, “I do wish I had a “typical” childhood, having like cool neighbor kids and stuff to hang out with, but my mom always believed that I was sent to take care of her.”
Hsu couldn’t recall a time where her mom was happy without the assistance of medication, which was hard on both of them sharing a small one-room apartment with each other and Hsu being so young. This led to a childhood of abuse and many hardships for Hsu having to care for a sick mother, however it all changed once her mother passed away, leaving Hsu alone without anywhere to turn.
Although she was immediately placed into a foster home, Hsu was unable to break from her caring spirit that she garnered from her mother. Growing up such a responsible and mature child, Hsu learned the importance of helping others and how much of an impact it has on other people. This led Hsu to her passion of volunteering. “Growing up no one really helped my mom, so the fact that I can help others makes me feel good even if it’s only making a little difference.”
She found the perfect place to help others at Portland’s Dougie Center for Grieving Children. There, Hsu worked as a facilitator for kids who are going through a loss of a family member, mostly in the ages of 6-12. “All the people there are extremely nice… we try and have kids and families come like twice a month and we have a big group talk about who died and how they are feeling,” she said.
Hsu would talk, but more importantly listen, to kids about what they are going through emotionally, as well as interact with them in arts and crafts or even beating a punching bag to release bottled up emotions. Hsu has been in their shoes; she wanted the kids to know they weren’t alone and she was there to help them even though it felt as if no one could.
There were many kids she helped at the Dougie Center through her service there twice a month for three years that left a lasting memory for Hsu. She loved the center and everything it stood for, even working through a training program in order to become a facilitator. “When I was a facilitator I remember this little boy who had lost his mom due to cancer and he was only five. He was my favorite. He would always draw pictures for me and ask me to play with him.”
Currently a junior Digital Arts major at UO, Hsu isn’t receiving any aid from her foster family or her biological dad, forcing her to take up two jobs on top of 16 credits. But despite all of those things taking up her time, her love for volunteering led her to joining the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega (APO) on campus, which is an organization that prides itself on volunteering, and Hsu says she loves every minute of it.
Although she wouldn’t mind branching out, Hsu finds herself working with kids a lot when she volunteers with APO. Hsu went with the organization to help serve food and play arts and crafts with kids through Eugene Recreation, which she felt to be very rewarding, especially in relation back to her childhood, “There were kids there with disabilities and there were kids there who were extremely talented. There were kids who didn’t have much and you can see that. Growing up I didn’t have much and wished that I was able to attend events like those, but it feels great knowing that I am able to give somebody what I didn’t have.”
APO also sent Hsu to Holt Elementary School on Halloween this past year to take part in their annual “Holtoberfest” celebration. Along with her fellow brothers of APO, they were each paired up and assigned to a station. Hsu was assigned to the bobbing stations where kids in Halloween costumes bobbed for apples, ducks or an assortment of other goodies in a tub of water.
The two events with the kids brought Hsu back to her time at the Dougie Center working with kids and seeing smiling faces, but APO also sent her to package food at Food For Lane County with her fellow brothers, something that related to Hsu personally, “ The experience was rewarding just knowing that these families will have food on the table that night. Growing up, my mom used up all my savings account money and there were times where I wasn’t able to eat that night,” she said.
Whether it was volunteering back in high school or now, helping other people will be a part of Hsu for the rest of her life. She wants to go back to the Dougie Center as well as continue working with APO until she graduates.
As for the distant future, Hsu smiles at the notion of a successful one, but also one where she is still helping people. “I’m thinking the Peace Corps but I’m not sure yet. Even if I don’t do that I’m going to try and be involved in my community and find things to do.”