Written by: Jessica Hung and Crystal Chen, FCSN Voices Youth/Senior Reporter
Graphics by: Barkha Trivedi, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist
For UC Davis fourth-year student Erica Chiu, her commitment to FCSN knows no bounds. In her five years at FCSN, she, again and again, defined volunteering as a timeless adventure–continuing through college and into her career. Today, Chiu manages the Presidential Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) Program at FCSN and oversees the FCSN club at UC Davis as a co-founder. For these contributions, FCSN awarded her the 2022 FCSN Scholarship.
Chiu–an aspiring pediatrician–joined FCSN in 2017 “wanting to be comfortable with patients of all backgrounds”. Starting with volunteering at the bi-weekly East Bay family gatherings, she began her FCSN journey in hopes of diversifying the experience she had with working with children with special needs.
Today, Chiu manages FCSN’s Presidential Volunteer Service Program (PVSA) program, which refers to the federal initiative of issuing awards to recognize young volunteers all over the United States. Chiu notifies all FCSN volunteers about the award at the end of the year, essentially encouraging FCSN Volunteers who have met the hour requirement for their age group to apply for the award. After the application deadline, she then verifies applicants’ hours by referencing their profiles in the FCSN database.
After Chiu took charge of the PVSA program, Chiu changed how FCSN volunteers could apply by implementing an online Google Form format. In her first year, however, she did not take into account some of the applicants’ questions, which resulted in many of them emailing her the same questions. Therefore, when Chiu managed the program for the second year, she first brainstormed improvements to the previous year’s application process, then made an effort to incorporate them. This eliminated most of the misunderstandings with the volunteers, creating an overall more efficient second year.
Chiu continued working with FCSN after high school, going on to start an FCSN club at UC Davis. With the help of her friends–Ember Hung and Sasha Alfroz–Chiu co-founded the UC Davis FCSN branch in 2020. The three of them worked together to plan, draft, and submit their club application. Finally, after talking to their school advisor, their organization was approved. The club aims to raise community awareness about the special needs community by inviting guest speakers and hosting other events and programs.
The club’s longest-running program is its one-on-one tutoring program, in which recruited volunteers teach special needs children any preferred subject. However, Chiu and her team did not limit the subjects to solely academic topics, even pairing up one tutor and tutee to play on the Nintendo Switch together.“It expanded our definition of tutoring,” said Chiu. “Their dynamic wasn’t exactly like [that of] a teacher and student, but more like a friendship.”
Because UC Davis is not in the Bay Area, the club was unable to use FCSN’s existing events. Instead, they had to design their own events, as well as find places to host them. These challenges were all accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic and difficulties with state regulations. Nevertheless, this did not stop Chiu and her fellow club members from running their events: on top of their one-on-one tutoring program, they have also hosted an online after-school program, as well as various science club events in local parks. Chiu hopes that the club will be able to host more in-person events hopefully in the coming year as COVID-19 dies down.
Chiu admits that it was hard to start everything from scratch–as the club needed to recruit its members without advisors’ support. Still, “everyone plays a crucial role in making sure that FCSN at UC Davis succeeds,” said Chiu. Only with her board members’ tireless efforts in recruiting parents and tutees, communicating with volunteers, and inviting guest speakers–she assesses–was UC Davis’ FCSN club’s successes possible.
This year, Chiu contributed to a new board-level committee for young leaders of FCSN; she is also taking over as leader for FCSN’s school clubs around the Bay Area. She urges students volunteering at FCSN to start an FCSN club at their school, “By starting many FCSN clubs throughout the Bay Area, we can fulfill our goal of recruiting more volunteers to help out at FCSN.” She also tells high school volunteers close to graduating, “being at college or being far away from the Bay Area shouldn’t stop you from continuing to help out neurodivergent individuals”.
As a result of her outstanding contributions to FCSN and the neurodiverse community, FCSN awarded Chiu with the 2022 FCSN Scholarship. This scholarship provides Chiu–a first-generation pre-med student–with support, offsetting some of the tremendous costs associated with attending medical school. “My family was really proud,” said Chiu. “We were all very grateful and happy.”
Chiu plans to continue coordinating the FCSN PVSA program, and create more in-person events for her UC Davis Club to help expand FCSN towards the Sacramento area.