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Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Ahn and Linna Shih

Good friends Sarah Ahn and Linna Shih both volunteer for Access Opportunity. They recently took some time to chat with us, and with each other, about their friendship, how they got involved with Access Opportunity, and why our program is important and unique.


Sarah and Linna met five years ago when their daughters were 3rd graders at Bear Creek Elementary and in the same girl scout troop. "I liked Linna right away because she has the most infectious laugh of anyone I know!" said Sarah. "She is so easy to talk to and we quickly started sharing parenting and other life tips. With Linna our conversations are always meaningful yet we often end up sharing deep belly laughs!"


Sarah was introduced to AO about four years ago by another friend and, then, introduced Linna to AO earlier this year.



Linna Shih: Why did you introduce me to AO?


Sarah Ahn: I knew you would love volunteering at AO not only because of the supportive culture but because you could really relate to what it is like to be a first generation immigrant to this country. Your experience in high school and college sounded very similar to our AO students' experience.


LS: You started working with AO before I did, how and when did you first get involved?

SA: I first learned of AO through my good friend, Lisa Granat, who invited me to a Raise a Class fundraiser maybe four years ago. I was so impressed with the student speakers at the event and I was very attracted to the mission of the organization. Soon after, I started working with Yuri and the counseling team holding monthly case conferences to talk about social emotional issues and delivering training in topics such as: stress management, executive functioning tips, and communication. During this last year, I also facilitated two support groups on Managing Stress and Anxiety and had the pleasure of meeting a number of AO students. What an amazing group of young adults! I also helped to recruit Juli Veser as our first director of Social and Emotional Learning.

LS: Why do you think SEL programming is so important to incorporate into programs like AO?

SA: I think SEL programming is a critical component for AO because we can't just focus on supporting students academically without considering the whole person. Being the first in your family to attend college has many far reaching effects, some positive and some challenging. To succeed in college and beyond one needs to be equipped with a wide range of social and emotional tools.

LS: What do you think is special or unique about AO?


SA: The students are amazing. I was so impressed with the level of vulnerability, emotional maturity, and genuine willingness to help each other in our support group. The students really do think of their peers both older and younger as their family. I also think the AO staff is a very special group as well. A small but mighty team that genuinely cares about each other and their students. Yuri has created a very positive and supportive culture here at AO.

LS: Shifting gears a little, did you read anything this past year that really resonated with you? Do you have a book that you would like to read next year?

SA: I just finished a fascinating account of a young woman's escape from North Korea entitled, "The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story," by Hyeonseo Lee and David John. My father's family is from North Korea and I have aunties and uncles and cousins whom I have never met that still live there. As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder if this book depicted their life experience as well.

I also recently started Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It's a bit depressing, but I am hoping that it will offer some sage advice on how to age gracefully!


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SA: Like me, you were able to apply your professional skills and experience to your work with AO, tell me more about your own work with the organization.


LS: This year AO experimented with including volunteers in the Application Reading process. I was honored to be asked to help AO organize the volunteers and design the review process. It allowed me to apply my project management skills. It was a wonderful experience for me, as I got to meet other volunteers who cared deeply about AO. I also learned a great deal about the student applicants' challenging life experiences. Lastly, I had the privilege of working closely with professional and dedicated AO staff.


SA: Why do you think programs like AO are important?


LS: AO is so important on multiple levels. At the individual level, AO is improving the lives of the students in its program by providing them with supportive peers and staff, and invaluable services. At the family level, AO is raising a generation who will be trailblazers in higher education. At the society level, AO is developing future leaders who will in turn contribute to the transformation of the communities from which they've come and beyond.


SA: You're always sharing great podcast and article recommendations, have you listened to or read anything lately that really resonated with you as capturing the AO student experience?


LS: Yes, I'm a big fan of the NPR podcast The Hidden Brian. One episode called "Between Two Worlds" reminded me of the students in the AO program. Here is the description of the the episode:


"Determination, hard work and sacrifice are core ingredients in the story of the American dream. But philosopher Jennifer Morton argues there is another, more painful requirement to getting ahead: a willingness to leave family and friends behind. This week, we explore the ethical costs of upward mobility."


Here is the transcript of the podcast: https://www.happyscribe.com/public/hidden-brain/between-two-worlds


Here is another New York Times article that was very thought provoking: "When I Applied to College, I Didn't Want to 'Sell My Pain'".



AO: Thank you, Sara and Linna for letting us get to know you a little better, for sharing why you're part of the AO family, and for being amazing champions of our work!