When Ying-Chiao Tsao, Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of communicative disorders, was told she could only collect hair for barbers at an outreach center in San Bernardino, she happily agreed.
Tzu Chi, a Buddhist organization, tries to connect with their patients in a way that most doctors do not. They offer services such as medical outreach, character education, tutoring and tax relief.
“I was touched. I didn’t mind that I was collecting hair all day long,” Tsao said.
Tsao now advises the Community Caring Project which partners with Tzu Chi to better serve low-income patients from all over the world.
Although Tzu Chi has a religious background, it does not use community service work to promote their Buddhism. Tsao said Tzu Chi embraces everyone regardless of their religion or cultural background.
Audrey Kim, a post-baccalaureate student, has been volunteering with the Community Caring Project since Fall 2017.
“It’s very different working with different cultures all in one place and seeing how they interact,” Kim said.
She has gone to a few medical outreaches with Tzu Chi, including working with nursing and group homes for children with special needs. Kim said nonverbal communication plays a huge role while volunteering because some patients have speech impediments.
“We hope that we’re able to reach them and let them know that we care,” Kim said.
The volunteers usually play games, perform sign language songs or give massages to patients. With every interaction, volunteers make sure to maintain eye contact with nonverbal patients in order to better connect with them.
“It’s not just about talking. It’s about communicating in the broader sense of communication, and how important that is,” Kim said.
Samantha Hoquist recently joined the Community Caring Project and believes it will guide her toward her goal of becoming a speech pathologist.
“It’s overwhelming in the beginning because I have no idea what’s going on, but after seeing some of the other students who have done this before and knowing they went through the same feeling and how they feel now, it’s comforting,” Hoquist said.
This type of service learning allows students to combine research with volunteer work and apply their knowledge to real-world situations.
Vanessa Silva is starting her second semester with the Community Caring Project. Last semester, she worked with Tzu Chi at a nursing home where she sang songs and danced to bring high spirits to the patients.
“You can see the people who live there were really excited and happy to see faces that were there for them,” Silva said.
The most important aspect of Tzu Chi for Silva is the amount of compassion they bring to the communities they help.
“From all of the organizations that I’ve volunteered with, I really enjoy Tzu Chi because they have such a broad focus,” Silva said.
Tsao said the work should not be about money or just getting a job done because the humanitarian aspect of the work is most important.
“It’s a lot of work, but I feel like it’s made me feel good. It’s made everybody feel good,” Tsao said. “That’s how it motivates a lot of Tzu Chi volunteers.”