“Serving Chinatown is an honor”

by Rev. Norman Fong

April 2, 2019

norman fong

A young person asked me recently, “Why have you worked for Chinatown all your life?” I said: “It’s been a real Honor to Serve Chinatown”. A lot of young folks want prestigious jobs like becoming a lawyer, doctor… but all I wanted was to serve our home community. Not only did I promise my mom that I would serve Chinatown all my life, I love the seniors, youth and families living here. I see my own parents in the seniors we serve. As an individual, I’ve learned that you can’t accomplish that much alone for it takes a village. We have to empower Chinatown’s residents and small businesses to help protect and keep Chinatown going forever.

Chinatown CDC’s 42nd Anniversary is April 1, 2019. I know that without Chinatown CDC, the International Hotel may have never been rebuilt. All the parks and recreation centers may not have been rebuilt plus our alleyways. Thousands would have been evicted and we would lose most of our affordable housing. This year, we also plan to finish renovating all of the Ping Yuen Housing units! Chinatown CDC was just given the environmental GOLD award by the National American Planning Association for our work in “Sustaining Chinatown”. We have over 220 staff working for the community and affordable housing projects across the city.

made in chinatown
Adopt An Alleyway youth make a Lego version of Chinatown

chinatown cdc property map
Property Map of Chinatown CDC

For over 40 years, I have worked full time at two Chinatown non-profit organizations. This is my 29th anniversary at Chinatown CDC (1990-2019) and I worked for Donaldina Cameron House from 1979-1990. I’ve also been a part of the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown since 1968, but was ordained a minister there in 1981. All three Chinatown organizations have taught me so much and I am so thankful to each one. Cameron House taught me how important youth work is as I directed the Bilingual Afterschool Program (BAP), ran many summer programs, and volunteered as a Friday Night “Club” leader (and later director) for many youth.

donaldina cameron house
Donaldina Cameron House

learning guitar
Learning to play the guitar

jean parker kid
Kids of Jean Parker school draw pictures of the future Woh Hei Yuen park

adopt an alleyway youth empowerment program
Starting the AAA Youth Program at Chinatown CDC. Pictured: Chinatown Workathon

Then I came to Chinatown CDC and noticed that they did not have any youth programs at all. I decided to start a youth program at Chinatown CDC because of what I learned from Cameron House. Having youth engaged in caring for Chinatown was my number one concern because all of us “older non-profit staff” need to pass what I call the “Heart of Chinatown” to the next generation. So, in 1991, the Adopt An Alleyway Youth Program was born and is still going on today at Chinatown CDC. New programs emerged to serve Youth for SROs and the Campaign Academy where youth choose an issue to work on for a year to make change. In recent years, our youth has worked hard on Pedestrian Safety issues.

Finally, my church – the Oldest Chinese Church in America. It was there I learned about sacrificial unconditional love. Sometimes, human love and even family love is conditional. You do things to care for others, but when the love is not returned or expectations are not met, the relationship ends. Church love is unconditional – you love your neighbor and even your enemies. We are called to love all and especially those in need. We have a lot of people with needs right here in Chinatown.

Working for the community and for non-profits may not be considered “prestigious” in society, but it is an honor and a privilege in so many ways. Chinatown always needs more help. I hope that some of you reading this article remind our young people to always “Give back to the community”. We have so many ways to give back to the community by volunteering, or donating money… but today, I want to say – consider a career path too that may include working to serve Chinatown. It is not only an honor for me to serve Chinatown all these decades, it also brings me so much joy and meaning in life that money and prestige can never bring. Thanks to all the non-profit organizations of Chinatown. Thanks to all the folks whether young or old that currently serve the community. For those of you who grew up in Chinatown and “made it out” – please remember to “Give Back” to this new Chinatown generation. What’s the old saying: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. It is an honor.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on March 31, 2019

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