New Jersey Teen Facilitates Youth Volunteer Projects That Inspire Leadership and Innovation to Address Local Challenges

GPA members presented 60 pairs of shoes and an 850 pound clothing donation to Soles4Souls./Courtesy Cassie Wang

Meet the recipients of the Daily Point of Light Award Cassie Wang. Read he story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as the Daily Point of Light.

Freshman Cassie Wang hasn’t chosen a major yet but is considering visual arts and environmental science. It’s no surprise then that the choices are as diverse as the experiences. Cassie is a painter who joins the rescue team as part of a high school volunteer EMT program. In her free time, she goes to museums with her friends and teaches art in the neighborhood.

Helping people became a passion, and as he got older, he decided to start his own project. Bringing together his 49 friends, he founded the 44th branch of the Alliance of Youth Leaders in the United States (AYLUS), Greater Princeton and Far Beyond (GPA). Their mission is to inspire the next generation of leaders to plan and implement voluntary projects that benefit their local communities.

Cassie also created the Save a Life program, a series of 150 events (and counting) that raises money for just that – saving lives. Some of the recipients of the donation included a beloved local teacher who was no longer able to work after a cancer diagnosis and an overstretched hospital that needed masks and face shields during the worst of the pandemic.

Cassie has received many awards for her work including the 2021 Jefferson Award, an award given by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1972 to people who make a difference in their communities. The Jefferson Award recognizes individuals who build better communities and contribute to a better future for those around them, who are involved in community involvement in many causes, including civil servants, impactful companies, and inspiring volunteers like cassie.

Today, Cassie has passed the baton to the new president but is continuing her longtime involvement with AYLUS. Read her story to learn more about her ministry and the leadership lessons she has learned through volunteering.

What inspired you to volunteer?

In sixth grade, I entered an art contest called the “Peace Poster Contest,” which was run by the local Lions Club. When I won, they invited me to volunteer with them. I went to the food bank and packed a bag. We went to a nursing home where I played violin for the residents, and more. Around my freshman year of high school, I wanted to do something more than participate. The Lions Club program is a bit far from where I live, and I wanted to do more in my area. That brings me to AYLUS.

Cassie Wang, founder of the 44th branch of the Alliance of Youth Leaders in the United States, Greater Princeton & Far Beyond, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of society and the growth of student leadership and integrity./Courtesy Cassie Wang

Describe your volunteer file with AYLUS and GPA.

I founded my AYLUS chapter in November 2018. We started with about 50 members and have grown to about 700 youth volunteers in and around New Jersey. Our goal is to help learning members become leaders and connect with the community in their own special way.

Freshman year of high school, I became National President of AYLUS, with the vice president in San Diego. I was also the president and head of the local chapter at the time, so there was a lot of coordination. We hold monthly meetings with various branches to discuss the projects we want to do overall.

During the pandemic, we collected donations and did various things to support the community. Initially, I was more active, organizing events and hosting charity shows. Later, I started encouraging more of my members to create their own projects.

What types of events do you hold?

One type is a musical benefit show. We try to have it once or twice a year, because it takes a lot of planning. Basically, we are trying to find a cause we want to support that is related to our Save a Life theme.

We also want to showcase the talents of our members and get them involved beyond just fundraising. Through ticket sales and reaching out to local store owners for donations, we were able to raise approximately $5,000 for a local teacher who was sick for our first major event. That’s encouraging. And our members have the opportunity to practice their skills convincing strangers to donate. These types of events went virtual during the pandemic, but we’re also starting to return to in-person events. We also do clothing and shoe deliveries as well as deliver gifts to senior centers.

What is the most valuable part of your job?

I enjoy talking to the people we help. At the veterans’ home where we had the show, I remember a conversation with a man who was also interested in the arts. I showed him some of my work. Building connections in those small ways is something that I find very rewarding. Seeing the growth in myself and in my friends and other members is great too. I saw them take on roles they might have been afraid of before.

What does winning the Jefferson Award mean to you?

That is huge recognition for the work, especially work during the pandemic. But I think it opened my eyes to how volunteering should be a lifelong commitment. Before presenting the award, the presenters will provide a synopsis of what the recipient has done. The great diversity in ages and causes is inspiring.

50 GPA members follow in Cassie’s footsteps at the Stop Asian Hate movement rally in Princeton, NJ./Courtesy Cassie Wang

What have you learned through your experience as a volunteer?

Convincing people of the importance of my cause is something I had to learn, because a lot of times people just don’t care. I’m quite introverted, and at first, I didn’t know how to express myself well. I’ve grown a lot, and I really value my experience leading large groups of people.

Are you still working with GPA?

Now that I live in New York, I can’t go to physical events very often. But I’m editing a video of a virtual concert that we are planning to send to Turkey because of the earthquake. We collect donations and video clips from our members to send. This is one of the few examples where we’ve worked with people from overseas, so it’s an exciting opportunity.

Why is it important for others to be involved in activities they care about?

Obviously, they can make an impact through this effort, but they can also grow personally. You can’t always leave it to someone else to help, and if you can contribute I’d encourage it, even if you’re young. You don’t have to start by leading. Joining as an attendee and seeing how events can be run and coming up with creative ideas is a great way to start.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Don’t think that you can’t do it. I would never have known so much if I had not volunteered and got to know so many people. You can find new friends in your community who are also into the things you love. I value my volunteer experience.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Cassie? Find local volunteer opportunities.

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