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Inspired by the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the "Why I Serve" series was created to celebrate our friends and neighbors who have made an impact by quietly serving their communities every day.

Interview with Frances Nguyen of the Latin American Youth Center

Frances Nguyen is originally from near San Francisco, California. After studying public health as an undergraduate in New Orleans and moving to Washington, DC, she became an Americorps volunteer at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC).

How long have you been working with this organization?

I started my Americorps member training in early September 2011.

What made you want to become involved with this organization?

Although I had been looking at a few options in the city, I ultimately settled on the Americorps program at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) because I loved the capacity in which I would serve the community. My passion is to be able to educate others about safe sexual health practices, and through the Americorps program, I have been able to teach comprehensive sexual health classes at various DC schools. The LAYC has such a strong commitment to the community here, and as someone who was originally an outsider, it has been fun being able to become part of that community.

Why did you decide to start volunteering?

I don't think it was something that I decided upon one day. Volunteering has always just felt like the right thing to do, even starting as young as elementary school. I've always believed that it is every individual's obligation as a decent, caring being to help those around him or her.

Everyone’s lives are busy; what inspires you to make service a priority in your life?

Volunteering has always just felt right to me. There's something that's unique about every volunteer opportunity that you can participate in and so much that you can take away from it. Some of my favorite memories were during volunteering opportunities because of this, I always try my best to volunteer as often as I can.

Are you participating in a service project on MLK day?  If so, what?

Yes, I will be volunteering at the Planned Parenthood Ophelia Egypt Center, participating in painting the center, assembling sexual health kits, and service reflections.

Why do you think people should serve year round?

Volunteering is so easy to do, and there is always a need for it. There are volunteer opportunities for any interest, any time commitment, and any number of people. For example, I have a friend who likes dogs but can't have one in his apartment. He also loves running and has a few spare hours during the weekend. It only took him a few minutes to find a dog shelter that needed volunteers to run with their dogs. He's loved it ever since!

Do you have any anecdotes that inspire you to serve that you’d like to share?

At one of the schools that I teach health and sex education at, I wasn't really sure what impact I was having on the fifth grade students. We had just finished a lesson on puberty where we stressed how natural and normal puberty was and some of what to expect, I was delighted to over hear one of the fifth grade girls say during recess, "I'm not so nervous about puberty anymore!" It really showed to me that even when you aren't sure you're making a difference, you are, and probably in a big way to someone.

Why do you serve?

I serve because it's fun, it's rewarding, and you meet the best people. There isn't such a thing as an act that's too small or too big, and everyone can do something. Serving your community is the right thing to do, and you will take as much away from it as much as your community will.

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