Danielle Chung and Michelle Padilla have much in common. They’re both graduating seniors and first-generation college students at the University of San Diego, and they’re leaders of USD community service programs that have helped both the local youth they assist as well as themselves.
Chung (pictured, left) is an Ethnic Studies major and is the USD site coordinator for the American Indian Recruitment (AIR) Tutorial program. Padilla (pictured, right), a psychology major, is site coordinator for the YMCA/Montgomery Middle School Homework Club. Chung and Padilla, who are also earning a minor in sociology, recently added another commonality: they’re recipients of the Judy Rauner Scholarship, presented by USD’s Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL).
The scholarship honors the work and memory of Rauner, who in 1986 founded and served as CSL’s inaugural director. She retired in 2002 and passed away in 2009. The award is given annually to an outstanding CSL student who continues Rauner’s passion and commitment to social change and service.
“Danielle and Michelle have shown strong dedication to making our community a better place through their service at their respective academic youth engagement programs,” said Judy’s daughter, Mary. “We’re especially impressed with their leadership abilities as they continually strive to strengthen their programs to motivate and inspire their USD classmate volunteers. Danielle and Michelle embody USD’s core values of focus on the community and compassionate service. They’re important role models for community clients and university colleagues.”
Finding AIR Gives Chung Purpose
Chung, a native Hawaiian, earned a college scholarship that included the stipulation that she would perform service work with native Hawaiians or another indigenous community while attending college. She came to the U.S. mainland and found USD and, soon after, the AIR program.
She’s been involved with AIR since January 2009, serving as a volunteer tutor, a summer program mentor and, since Fall 2011, she’s been working within CSL and its Center for Awareness, Service and Action (CASA) and serving as USD’s AIR site coordinator. Her work supports young Native American children who reside throughout San Diego County by providing them vital academic, information and mentoring resources.
“Danielle recruited, trained and managed more than five volunteers and manages three work-study students. She’s responsible for the content of the programming, communication with parents and schools, and ensures that the American Indian students have transportation to the tutorial program (at USD),” said CSL Program Director Ilana Lopez. “The site coordinator position she holds is incredibly demanding because both of the content and logistical pieces fall on her shoulders. She also works directly with AIR’s executive director, attends meetings at other school sites. She continues to grow the partnership with her presence and work.”
Chung was named AIR’s 2012 Mentor of the Year, an honor that illustrated her commitment and passion for the program and its participants.
“It’s really about empowerment,” Chung said. “We want to give them support and resources that might not be at school or home. We want to nurture the whole person. We want to help them find that drive within themselves, ask them about their goals, what they want to be, talk to them about graduating high school and going on to college.”
Chung also strives to help USD students expand their knowledge. She recently advised the Torero Program Board on culturally responsive programming for Native American Awareness Month.
She credits professors in Ethnic Studies, staff members in CSL/CASA and those she works with through the AIR program, including USD alumnae (pictured with Chung, left to right) Kate Gordon and Christy Garcia, who are both still connected to AIR.
“They’ve all been like a family for me, it’s like the saying that it takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “Everyone gives consistently: love, knowledge and skills.”
Chung has applied to Teach for America and hopes to be placed in Hawaii. She wants to take what she’s learned at USD, through AIR and apply her skills to empower native Hawaiian students.
Earning the Rauner scholarship, she said, serves as added motivation. “I never met her, but I read her bio on the website and I think she’s phenomenal,” Chung said. “The fact that she’s a female leader is huge for me. Her life was dedicated to giving to others. That spirit embodies what I aspire to be.”
Padilla: Community Minded to the Core
An adjustment period is typical for college transfer students. There’s so much that’s new — people, professors, location, etc. — but Michelle Padilla’s way to alleviate that “new” feeling is simple and effective.
“I like working, helping and volunteering and I’d done a lot of it in Imperial Valley,” Padilla said. “I didn’t know anyone when I first arrived (at USD), but I knew that doing community service would be a good way to meet people and make friends. I moved into Linda Vista and thought it would be a great way to get to know more about the community.”
She volunteered on her own as a tutor at Bayside Community Center, a place where numerous USD students work in CSL/CASA-affiliated programs. It was the start of what remains a fulfilling experience for Padilla.
“Two years ago, I worked with a student and I recently saw her again and she’s grown up. It was nice to see her again and it made me feel good,” Padilla said. “It made me really feel like a community member, it made me feel like I’m not an outsider.”
Padilla’s experiences through USD have kept her going. Being chosen for the Rauner scholarship, she said, “was very touching.”
Padilla is in her second year as site coordinator for CSL/CASA’s partnership with YMCA Mission Valley and Montgomery Middle School to provide tutors for an after-school Homework Club program for Montgomery students.
“Michelle is incredibly consistent, dependable, positive and very caring toward the children she works with and the USD students she manages,” CSL’s Lopez said. “Michelle balances her commitment to the students with advocating for USD students, making sure they’re getting the experience they desire and helping them become better tutors/mentors through role modeling and sharing ideas in a very humble way.”
Other experiences Padilla has had while at USD includes summer study abroad in Jamaica, contributing to a community book project on Chicano Park’s colorful murals and serving as an advisor for California Student Opportunity and Access Program (CAL-SOAP) to encourage youth to go to college and informing them of the steps to do it.
Padilla truly gets more out of her community service work than just the satisfaction of being involved. “When I did CAL-SOAP, I worked with students from Spring Valley, Mount Miguel and El Cajon high schools. There were a lot of Middle Eastern students there and I learned a lot about the culture. I was so interested that I took a Muslim course last semester.”
Judy Rauner made quite an impact by establishing and leading CSL’s many initiatives. For Chung and Padilla, earning the Rauner scholarship is a reminder to them and others that making a difference is a worthwhile and lifelong pursuit.
— Ryan T. Blystone