The Heart of a Volunteer

In the spirit of the holiday season, rather than focus on what you can buy or consume, we’re putting the spotlight on those who give and serve. More times than not, the pillars of great movements and causes are the volunteers working doggedly behind the scenes. Their commitment to help others have advanced society and improved the minds and lives of countless people — including that of the volunteers themselves. We tip our hats to them and recognize our unsung heroes, and hope it will inspire many more.

Note: In our outreach efforts to collect nominations by community members, we received nearly forty submissions. While all of the nominations were worthy, the IE Board of Directors and Editorial staff refined the list to those who were largely and previously unrecognized for their volunteer work.

Liana Woo
Nominated by Aleta Eng

Group photo of FICP at a fundraiser. Liana Woo is in the middle row, 3rd from the right.
Group photo of FICP at a fundraiser. Liana Woo is in the middle row, 3rd from the right.

Liana Woo, 34, is a Chinese American native Seattleite who “loves to travel and eat [my] way around the world, but loved [my] grandmother’s home cooking the best.” Liana has served as the co-chair of the steering committee for the Friends of the International Children’s Park (ICP) for almost 4 years. The Friends of the International Children’s Park (FICP) is a group of individuals and organizations committed to the improvement of the park. Liana also participated as a board member for InterIm Community Development Association for 3 years, and served as a board member for the Asia Condo for 4 years.

What brought you to volunteer there and what keeps you volunteering?

“I have fond memories playing at the [International Children’s] park with my brother when we were kids,” said Woo. “We would go there after dim sum on the weekends, and it was always one of our favorite places to play.” Ater seeing the park’s under-use and poor condition as an adult,  Woo became an advocate for the park, desiring to increase its plantings and replace its play equipment to promote public safety.

“Together with other residents, organizations, parents, and community members, we created the Friends of International Children’s Park to begin community outreach and planning for the redevelopment of the park,” said Woo. “To see the next generation of youth enjoy the park and have a safe place to play, as we did when we were kids, is what motivates me to continue volunteering.”

What do you hope to achieve by volunteering? What impact do you feel you have made?

“I learned early on from my family that helping others, and being an active member of your community, should be a natural part of your life,” said Woo. “I do hope to contribute what I can to making something better than it was before I started, and to have fun and make new friends. Beyond the tangible positive outcomes, like improving a park and seeing children have fun, I hope that we have helped to shape a better community — where neighbors know each other, help and look out for each other, and that everyone has a safe, healthy, and vibrant place to live. I hope that we have engaged people in the community not just now, but they will continue to do so in the future. Many of those who have started as volunteers have turned into interns and staff in the community, and are leaving their own mark.”

“There is so much history in this neighborhood, and it is important to pass that on to the next generations, whether in the form of art, a story, a museum, or a park.”

How do you feel about this nomination and recognition?

“While I am honored and humbled by this recognition … it would not be possible without the collective effort of dozens of volunteers, supporters, and donors in the community. Thank you to everyone, especially to Joyce Pisnanont (co-chair, steering committee) and Jeff Hou (chair, design committee).

Visit for more info or to donate.

Lan Do
Nominated by Vu Le and Kathy Ho, Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA)

Lan DoLan Do immigrated to Seattle in 1993 with only her husband and daughter. She didn’t understanding any English, but felt supported by the local Vietnamese community. A friend introduced Do to the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) where she has now volunteered for three years.

“Despite her limited English and computer skills, I was very impressed by her willingness to learn and her bravery for approaching VFA,” said Phung Nguyen, a VFA program coordinator who works with Do. “She comes in the office five days a week in the afternoon to help me with data entry, filing, phone calling, and greeting parents.”

“It was a Wednesday morning in early May when a parent came in the office to meet with me,” explained Nguyen. “She also brought along a friend, Lan Do. Lan politely introduced herself and after a few conversations we exchanged, she strongly expressed interest in volunteering at the VFA for the Parent Advocacy program. I was thinking to myself, ‘Of course! We’d love to have a parent volunteer!’ In the past three years working at VFA, Lan was the first parent who initiated to offer help.”

What do you hope to achieve by volunteering? What impact do you feel you have made?

“I really like what VFA is doing for our community,” Do said. “I enjoy participating in workshops with other parents. As a result, my knowledge around these topics (e.g. education, health, American society) increased. Volunteering at VFA helps me better understand what the organization does at the office. Phung helps me learn English, how to operate the computer, and things I didn’t know before. Because of this, I really enjoy volunteering at VFA.”

How do you feel about this nomination and recognition?

“Oh, I just like to serve,” said Do. “It doesn’t matter to have an award or not.” Lan said she wants to encourage everyone to volunteer because “we will improve when everyone works together.”

A word from their nominator:

“She would stay after hours to finish her tasks although she is not required to. With no prior public speaking experience and little preparation, she even had the courage to speak out at this year’s SOAR 6th annual conference along with a group of VFA steering committee parents. She also assisted with serving food to 400 guests at this year’s Vietnamese resource fair. I admire her determination to learn and passion for helping others.”

— Phung Nguyen, VFA

To inquire about volunteer opportunities with the VFA, please call (206) 774 – 0903 or e-mail [email protected].

Tim Eng and Kanako Iwata-Eng
Nominated by Divya Kumar, Seattle Humane Society

Tim Eng, 47, and his wife Kanako Iwata-Eng, 47, have volunteered at the Seattle Humane Society (SHS) since 1996, collecting donations and food for the organization’s Pet Food Bank program, which provides donated food to low-income and senior citizens’ pets. Tim Eng, a Chinese American, grew up in Eastern Washington where his parents owned a restaurant, and attended Pacific Lutheran University. His wife, Kanako, a fellow volunteer, immigrated from Japan 20 years ago and earned a Master’s degree. The couple now lives in Redmond.

What brought you to volunteer at SHS and what keeps you volunteering?

“We got our first cat at Seattle Humane Society,” said Tim Eng. “Then we found out there were volunteer opportunities.” Kanako volunteered first and encouraged her husband to consider filling an opening at the Pet Food Bank program. Since then, for the next 14 years, the couple has offered their time and services to the SHS.

“If there was a need we tried to step up and help out,” Eng said.  What has kept the couple volunteering at SHS is “keeping animals happy and fed when low-income people or seniors can’t afford to.” The Engs collect and pack pet food donations for two community centers, in Black Diamond — southeast of Kent — and the University District. Donated pet food can be up to 800-900 lbs. at a time.

What do you hope to achieve by volunteering? What impact do you feel you have made?

“It’s a community service,” said Eng. “But it’s better to do it when you volunteer on your own than for someone to tell you it’s ‘right’ to volunteer.” Ultimately, the couple, hopes their efforts help the animals. “We’re a pet family here.”

How do you feel about this nomination and recognition?

“It was a surprise,” said Eng. “You start volunteering before it was hip to volunteer and we stuck with it. So, it’s nice to be recognized after all these years.”

A word from their nominator:

“Tim and Kanako’s work ensures that many low-income pet owners in our community don’t have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pets. This volunteer duo is invaluable to the Seattle Humane Society!”

–Maureen Walsh Lull, SHS Volunteer Services Manager

To inquire about volunteer opportunities at the Seattle Humane Society, contact Maureen Walsh Lull at (425) 274 – 1572 or e-mail [email protected].

Vanessa Diego
Nominated by Julie Pham, Managing Editor, Northwest Vietnamese News

Vanessa Diego is 29 year-old Filipino American with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management, and a background in finance. Since 2007, Diego has volunteered at her local church, St. James Cathedral Children’s Faith Formation as a Sunday School Teacher for 6th graders.  In addition, she serves on the board for a number of non-profit organizations including the Filipino Chamber of Commerce, since 2009 as the Chairperson for Civic Involvement; the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Seattle since 2008 as Board Treasurer; and the Vietnamese Friendship Association, since August of 2010 as a Board member.

What brought you to volunteer there and what keeps you volunteering?

“I started volunteering at St. James because I was trying to strengthen my relationship with God,” said Diego. She then experienced her first volunteer project at Qwest Corporation when she served as chair of the “Take Your Child To Work Day Project” in 2008. She joined the Organization for Chinese Americans of Greater Seattle (OCA-GS) because “I was moved by [its] mission; that is, implementing projects or efforts that are dedicated to advancing the social, economic, and political well-being of Pacific Asian Americans.”  A desire to contribute to the organizing projects that empower entrepreneurs and young professionals led Diego to join the Filipino Chamber of Commerce. Serving on the board of the Vietnamese Friendship Association derived from “my purpose …  to advocating for equal opportunity, fair treatment, and advancement for all.”

What do you hope to achieve by volunteering? What impact do you feel you have made?

“In reflecting back when I started volunteering, I simply wanted to express my thanksgiving to God that is beyond thanking him through prayer,” said Diego. “Therefore, I took the initiative to look for opportunities to serve. When I moved to Seattle I was very shy — the only talent I knew I could share, at that time was making friends and helping kids in art projects.  Somehow, my volunteer efforts evolved into helping organizations in empowering people by serving on the organizations’ Board of Directors. At this point of my life, I feel that I have not made an impact yet. I feel that there is still more for me to accomplish, in order for me to feel that I’ve made a difference or real impact to the communities.”

How do you feel about this nomination and recognition?

“After learning from Diem (IE Editor) that my dear friend Julie Pham has nominated me to receive this award, I felt so grateful, so happy, so honored, and so overwhelmed that I am humbled by this experience,” said Diego. “I am just grateful that someone prominent in the community like Julie thought about me and even nominated me. This experience motivates me to continue volunteering, and to aspire taking my volunteer efforts to the next level; so that I may inspire others to get involved too, and to make use of their talents and skills for the greater good.”

A word from their nominator:

“Vanessa is one of the most generous people I know. I can’t keep track of all the organizations she gives her time to. She doesn’t know how to say ‘no’! Whenever I talk to her, she’s usually on the run, between teaching Sunday school at her church, picking up food samples for the Leadership Community picnic or posters for the Emerging Filipino Leaders or attending board meetings for OCA, Filipino Chamber of Commerce, and the Vietnamese Friendship Association.”

—  Julie Pham, Managing Editor, NVTB

To volunteer with the OCA-GS, visit To inquire with the Filipino Chamber of Commerce, please contact [email protected].

Dongkyu Hwang
Nominated by Joyce Zhou and the Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS)

Dongkyu Hwang immigrated to America in 1979 from South Korea. He was a Physical Education teacher in Seoul and later, a bilingual teacher in the Seattle Public Schools. He has volunteered at the Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS) for nearly 4 years as a line dance teacher for seniors in ACRS’ Club Bamboo program. He said he started the program because there was a need for entertaining activities for API seniors in the community.

“I think line dancing is the best practice to a healthy and happy life,” Hwang said.

“Some students have improved their memory skills while learning the steps and enjoy the social time at Club Bamboo,” said Jongsook Ghim, an Aging and Adult Services Case Manager at ACRS.

“I like to serve and all I want is for everyone to be happy and healthy, especially the seniors,” said Hwang.

A word from their nominator:

“Many of Dongkyu Hwang’s students get so much out of his classes … Students have said to me that if it wasn’t for the line dancing they probably would not participate in the program. Mr. Hwang’s class helps build the popularity of the whole program. What started out as a program primarily for Korean seniors has expanded to having Chinese and Vietnamese seniors as well as clients from our Behavioral Health program.”

— Jongsook Ghim, Aging and Adult Services Case Manager, ACRS

For opportunities with ACRS, e-mail [email protected] or call (206) 695- 7637.

Bettie Luke
Nominated by Diane Narasaki, Executive Director of Asian Counseling Referral Services (ACRS)

Bettie LukeBettie Luke, 69, is a Chinese American, who was born, raised and grew up in Seattle. She has served as an educational activist for three decades promoting diversity training and has volunteered for the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Seattle (OCA-GS) as well as for several diverse cultural and historic preservation groups, including: the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Ethnic Heritage Council, Seafair Pow Wow, Northwest African American Museum, Rainbow Bookfest and the Chinese/Jewish Partnership. Luke is currently the chair for the Chinese Expulsion Remembrance Project, a project commemorating the 125th anniversary of the 1885 – 1886 expulsion of Chinese from several cities in Washington State (Visit and see related article in this issue).

What brought you to volunteer and what keeps you volunteering?

“Starting with the Jade Guild as a young mother, I was intrigued with the opportunity to work with and learn from older Chinese American women,” said Luke. “I wanted to learn more about Chinese heritage, practices, beliefs, crafts and activities. Through years of involvement it became easy to take part in cultural activities and social services for the good of the community.”

Luke explained when she started work for the Seattle Public School District as a Multicultural Teacher Trainer, her interest and learning expanded quickly into involvement with communities of other cultures.

“There are so many common needs and issues across other cultural communities that I could understand and relate to,” said Luke. “Trust, interest, empathy and concern develops with building relationships with others, so it becomes natural to step up when someone you care about needs support. It can be as small of a gesture as a phone call or a big petition campaign for social justice.”

Several things keep Bettie volunteering: A great curiosity and interest in learning more; contributing to the greater good because it is the right thing to do; honoring, respecting and supporting others she cares about; “quiet pride” in seeing that her skills and knowledge are helpful to others; building, valuing & maintaining relationships with those she works with or meets; and being encouraged by seeing the commitment of others on the team who support the cause.

What do you hope to achieve by volunteering? What impact do you feel you have made?

Luke said she hopes to “get good work done that contributes to society” and builds relationships with others having like interests as well as be a proactive example [of change] instead of lamenting.

“I make sure that I also give support, appreciation and recognition to others on the team while doing the work together,” said Luke, in regards to community fundraising events. “In that way, I hope it builds a stronger bond to continue/sustain volunteer work in the future.”

She feels that her strength to push efforts has helped to move causes forward.

“I have been told on occasion that some things would not have happened if I had not prodded, nagged, instigated and/or been a cheerleader to get things done.”

How do you feel about this nomination and recognition?

“What an honor to be featured among such a stellar and deserving group of people in the community,” said Luke. “I do not need to be recognized – it is the work that deserves the attention and the others on the team that made the good work happen. I will keep on helping where I can.”

A word from their nominator:

“I nominated Bettie Luke because she selflessly and heroically volunteers her time, energy, experience and wisdom on some of the hardest, most controversial issues facing our community. She is smart, effective, diplomatic, gracious, courageous, compassionate, generous and gets results, always thinking of how to move forward with everyone moving together. She always thinks not only of the issues to be dealt with, but with kindness and consideration of the individuals involved, often sharing gifts she has created to recognize the efforts of others. She has done this over the course of her lifetime, volunteering her time on issues and in movements, and I consider her one of our community’s most precious jewels.”

— Diane Narasaki, Executive Director, ACRS

Savitha Pathi
Nominated by Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Savitha Pathi Savitha Pathi has served on the Board of Directors of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience since 2004. Born in India and raised in Ohio, before arriving to Seattle, Pathi has lived in Europe, New Zealand, and Washington, D.C.

The community-based and social justice mission of the Wing Luke Museum motivates her to volunteer.

“As a naturalized citizen, the historical and contemporary impacts of immigrants and our communities are very important to me,” Pathi said. She is enthusiastic about showing friends and community members why the historical and current Asian Pacific American experience is important to all of us. She feels very honored by this nomination and  believes volunteering is always the “right thing to do” – giving back to the community when you are able.

A word from their nominator:

Savitha’s passion and energy are inspiring. Her leadership and dedication set a strong example for us all. The Wing is strengthened by the coming together of volunteers both young and old, working together across generations to help us succeed and grow.”

— Cassie Chinn, Deputy Executive Director, Wing Luke Asian Museum

To volunteer at the Wing, visit the website or call (206) 623 – 5124 ext. 132.

Janyce Ko Fisher
Nominated by Christine Loredo and the International Community Health Services (ICHS)

A word from their nominator:

“As our longest-standing board member, Jan helped guide ICHS’ growth over the past 30 years from a small storefront clinic into the largest community health center in Washington State serving Asians and Pacific Islanders. Her contributions to ICHS over the years have been invaluable.”

– Teresita Batayola, Executive Director of the International Community Health Services (ICHS)

For opportunities to volunteer with ICHS, e-mail [email protected] or call (206) 788 – 3680.

Kanoelani Galiza
Nominated by Lua Pritchard, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC)

A word from their nominator:

“Kanoelani is truly Hawaiian at heart.  Everything about Kanoe is Islander.  She does wonders for our Pacific Islander community especially advocating and presenting the beautiful Island of Hawaii.  She’s a long time volunteer for the Hawaiian community statewide.  She shares her heart with everyone she comes across.  She teaches many people about the Hawaiian Hula and culture without any compensation.  She’s always available to help out in the community.  Kanoe is one of the people I would call first to help out on anything I organize, because I know she will always say, “Yes, I will be there,” with a smile, and she will serve with a smile.  Kanoe will use all of her house goods, family members, and belongings to put up a community event to either raise funds for a cause or present the Asia Pacific cultures to the general public.  Kanoe is full of ‘aloha’ spirit, and she is definitely an island ‘jewel’.”

— Lua Pritchard, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC)

For volunteer opportunities with APCC, call (253) 383 – 3900.

Tina Nguyen
Nominated by Frances Lin and the Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC)

Tina Ngoc Trinh Nguyen is a 19 year-old Vietnamese American, born and raised in Western Washington. She has volunteered at the Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC) for 8 months and feels pleased with the experience working for a non-profit organization. Through volunteering, she has shown others the importance of providing assistance to young children and families. She wants to gain more valuable experience toward her path to work with children. She did not expect recognition as a volunteer, exclaiming, “It’s a rewarding surprise!”

A word from their nominator:

“I nominated Tina Nguyen because she is one of my most dedicated volunteers at Denise Louie Education Center. She is my Volunteer Coordinator and has taken on the role as her own. She takes pride in orienting new volunteers, explaining what Denise Louie Education Center is, and how we received our name. She is responsible, reliable, and is part of the Denise Louie family. I couldn’t ask for a better volunteer to help me.”

— Frances Lin, Director of Development, DLEC

To inquire about volunteering with DLEC, please visit for volunteer requirements.

David Eam
Nominated by Julie Pham, Managing Editor, Northwest Vietnamese Times, and Joyce Zhou, Development Director, ACRS

Nominated twice by community members, David Eam is “just awesome” according to his nominators. Eam, 29, graduated from the University of Washington in 2005 with a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering. After working as a systems/software engineer for a few years, Eam felt a need to contribute something meaningful to his life and decided to volunteer for the community. He joined the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP-Seattle) in 2008 and is now serving as the Community Service Chair where he organizes monthly NAAAP-Seattle events in an effort to give back to the community.

“David has helped a great deal with getting NAAAP members involved with ACRS,” said Joyce Zhou, Development Director for the Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS). “For example, he organized a large group of reliable volunteers for Walk for Rice benefiting our food bank this year, in addition to raising over $1,200 as the NAAAP team captain.”

Through attending a previous NAAAP event for the first time, Eam was inspired by people he felt were just as passionate as he was to give back to the community.

“NAAAP-Seattle has changed my life. It has brought me a new passion and appreciation for non-profits and volunteer organizations,” said Eam. He wishes to further increase the visibility for non-profit work and support young working professionals.

But his volunteer efforts have reached far beyond NAAAP, according to his other nominator,  Julie Pham.

“He not only coordinates many of the events, but also leads and inspires by example,” said Pham. “He spends his weekends packing food at food banks, picking up trash in neighborhood clean-ups, and making meals for the hungry, even outside NAAAP-Seattle activities.”

Eam said he hopes his efforts will help inspire more passion for volunteering.

Learn how to get involved with NAAAP-Seattle at or call the hotline at (206) 235 – 6935.

Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors
Nominated by Andy Yip

The Seattle Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Program is a group of young Chinese American volunteers ages 20 – 25 who tirelessly serve various organizations of the Asian Pacific community. They have offered their time and man-power to the International Community Health Services (ICHS) and the Seattle Chinatown/International District Business Improvement Area (SCIDBIA), and staffed events such as the Chinatown/ID Summer Festival and the International District Clean-up. They have contributed outside the Asian American community, too, working with Habitat for Humanity and Northwest Harvest.

This group of young professionals and students dedicate their time and energy in hopes of not only giving back to the community, but to get involved with their culture and heritage. The program also provides networking opportunities to support their career goals.

“By volunteering we hope to make the community a safer and better place,” said Eugene Law, one of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Program volunteers. “Volunteering also gives a sense of accomplishment and a chance to gain experience.”

“Most of all, by volunteering, we like to encourage involvement and hope that our efforts will inspire future generations.”

To learn more please visit:

SCIDPDA Neighborhood Block Watch Team
Nominated by Nic Li, Economic Development Specialist, SCIDPDA

Started by a group of concerned community members in 2009, the Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation Development Authority’s (SCIDPDA) Neighborhood Block Watch Team has worked hard to patrol the streets of the Chinatown International District. They are a group of ordinary citizens, mostly aged 50 and above, wanting to unite the community to keep the neighborhood safe.

The team of 20-25 volunteers gather every Tuesday and Thursday evening to go out on their “walks”. During the walk, the group will report any suspicious activities in the area to the police and also maintain a presence in the neighborhood through greeting the residents. The main goal for the Neighborhood Block Watch is to promote awareness.

“Too often, the residents keep to themselves when facing illegal activities,” said “Bill”, a community volunteer on the team. “And we are here to encourage them to call 911 to break the language barrier.” Since the Neighborhood Block Watch team was formed, more and more improvements are seen around the community. And although small, these changes are what keeps the team motivated. It also gives the often ignored elderly residents a place to be accepted and involved. “We sing, we have dinner parties, we have fun on our walks,” said “Mark”, another team volunteer.

“The Neighborhood Watch program is a great platform for community building,” said Nic Li, the Economic Development Specialist for SCIDPDA. “Neighbors watching out for each other and helping each other, that’s the message that we would like to promote as a Neighborhood Watch.”

The Neighborhood Block Watch meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 – 7 p.m. E-mail Nic Li at [email protected] or call (206) 624 – 8929 for more information.

Patsy Surh O’Connell
Nominated by Lua Pritchard, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC)

Born in Shanghai, Patsy O’Connell, 67, immigrated to the United States in 1963 and has served the Asian Pacific American communities of Washington state since 1985. O’Connell, an ethnic Korean, has volunteered with numerous organizations such as the Tacoma Art Museum, the Korean Women’s Association, and the Korean Artist Association, to name a few. She was appointed by two Washington State Governors as the Commissioner for the Washington State Arts Commission. She is still dedicating her time to the community as the Founder/President of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center (APCC).

“Patsy is instrumental in bringing Asia Pacific communities together,” said Lua Pritchard, the Executive Director for the APCC. “She’s the ‘dreamer’ behind the APCC. [She’s] a great person with a huge heart and always striving to do the best for others.”

Inspired by her grandfather and parents, O’Connell learned from her family about the importance of giving back to the community.

“Their examples demonstrated to me that volunteering is paying back to the society you live in for the overall enrichment of your community and the following generations,” said O’Connell. “I feel good that I’m doing something greater than myself.”

Her dedication is evident through her work at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center where she aims to bridge communities and generations through arts, culture, education, and business. She hopes to continue to spread awareness for the organization as well as its value.

For more information on how to become involved go to:

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