Growing up with Tzu Chi in Bayview-Hunters Point

By Christina Chang  | Translated by Diana Chang. |  Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto

Tony James Harper (middle) and his siblings attend Tzu Chi’s 2021 Summer Camp together. Tzu Chi volunteers have been accompanying Tony, a student in Bayview-Hunters Point, for over 12 years. Photo/Lulu Yin

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From kindergarten to high school graduation, I am very grateful for the Tzu Chi volunteers who have been by my side along the way,” said Tony James Harper, a high school graduate at Tzu Chi’s online scholarship ceremony. Tony lives in Bayview-Hunters Point, a neighborhood in San Francisco, California. After the summer of 2021, Tony will attend the University of California, Merced, to study Computer Science and begin a brand new chapter in his life.

In 2009, Tzu Chi volunteers began donating books to schools to serve and uplift the community, and donated uniforms to Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School students. This experience was the first time Tony received a uniform from Tzu Chi. And it was the dawn of a unique twelveyear academic journey, too.

Twelve Years of Perfect Attendance

Tzu Chi USA’s Happy Campus Program aims to ensure the needs of students from lowincome families are met with the utmost care, and provides students with the love, inspiration, and everyday essentials needed to help achieve their potential. Through these educational projects, volunteers instill confidence within the hearts of both students and families. Working together earnestly at every level with educators, Tzu Chi promotes a future for children framed by equality, compassion, respect, and sincerity.

With the support of Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School, a team of Tzu Chi volunteers in San Francisco established the Happy Campus program at the school in 2010. Accordingly, a Perfect Attendance Award Program was extended to encourage students to attend school on time every day. Thinking back on this program, Roxanne Buchwitz, one of the Tzu Chi volunteers who has accompanied Tony since 2009, recalled that he was the only student who received the Perfect Attendance Award from K-12th grade.

Students wear uniforms donated by Tzu Chi and sing happily at the Perfect Attendance Award ceremony. Photo/Shuli Lo
Tony James Harper receives his Perfect Attendance Award from a Tzu Chi volunteer. Photo/Lulu Yin

Tony’s mother drove her children to school on time every morning and then continued on to work. One morning, however, she couldn’t locate her car keys and would have been late for work if they followed their usual routine. Tony anxiously told his mother, “You keep looking for the keys; I can go to school myself.” As soon as he provided his explanation, he rushed out of the house and ran to school. Later, Tony recalled how important the perfect attendance record had become for him, and how much he’d grown.

Tony James Harper hugs his mom (middle) at the 2014 Perfect Attendance Award ceremony, thanking her for all her loving efforts. Photo/Lulu Yin

Growing up at School and Home

In 2021, twenty-four students in San Francisco received scholarships from Tzu Chi. Tony received $6,000 for his school expenses for the next four years at college. In a thank-you video, he expressed his gratitude to Tzu Chi for the care — not only for the financial support, but the companionship he received over so many years as well. Tony specifically mentioned the summer of 2018, when Tzu Chi volunteers invited 11 students and teachers from Hunter’s Point to visit Tzu Chi’s Global Headquarters in Taiwan.

When the teachers and students arrived in Hualien, Taiwan, they visited the Jing Si Abode and met the venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen, who started the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. The group also participated in Tzu Chi activities at two Tzu Chi locations in Hualien and Taipei to learn about the daily routines. What impressed Tony most was the trip to Tzu Chi’s Recycling Education Center in Neihu, Taiwan.

“I saw how the volunteers organized all kinds of recycled materials and learned how to live sustainably to make Mother Earth a better place to live,” Tony recalls. And indeed, tens of thousands of Tzu Chi volunteers protect the environment by collecting and sorting raw polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials, which are then transformed into DA.AI Tech yarn, and woven into an array of high-quality textiles without increasing the total PET volume. Through its sustainable reclamation process, DA.AI Technology produces environmentally-friendly clothing, backpacks, and other everyday textile products. These include the warm and durable eco-blankets that Tzu Chi volunteers have distributed to disaster survivors during relief missions since 2006.

Tony James Harper, fellow students, and teachers visit Tzu Chi’s Global Headquarters in Taiwan in 2018. Photo/Lulu Yin
A Tzu Chi volunteer serves tea to Tony James Harper during a Tea Ceremony demonstration. Photo/Lulu Yin

Finding the Way at Tzu Chi Summer Camp

The laptop Tony earned through the Perfect Attendance Program when he graduated elementary school had followed him all the way through high school graduation.

Lulu Yin, another Tzu Chi volunteer who’d been there since the beginning, had become just like a family member. One weekend, Tony asked Lulu if Tzu Chi would be able to provide him with a new laptop to meet the needs of his college curriculum.

“Of course,” Lulu swiftly responded. “We will absolutely continue to support your education.”

In the summer of 2021, Tony’s sister also graduated from elementary school with six years of perfect attendance. They both received a brand new laptop computer from Tzu Chi to continue their next big chapter in life.

Tzu Chi volunteers’ care for  the children in the Hunters Point community doesn’t end after high school graduation but continues, providing support that answers their changing needs at different stages of life. One example of this is Tzu Chi’s summer camp.

Tzu Chi volunteers provide timely assistance to students of different ages in the Hunters Point community. Photo/Lulu Yin
Tzu Chi USA’s San Francisco Branch celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2019 with Tony James Harper. Photo/Lulu Yin

Tzu Chi is entering its 13th year of service in the Hunters Point community. Initially, the annual summer camp was created for elementary and middle school students. In 2021, however, it shifted to include a life exploration program for high school and college students. As such, activities that ask, “Who are you?” and “What do you want to do?” will help participants discover their inner selves and find a path for the future. Tony has also been a member of the camp from K-12.

Alex Tsao, a volunteer who accompanied Tony when visiting Tzu Chi’s Global Headquarters in Taiwan, had offered Tony his blessings back in 2018. As Tony readied to enter college, Alex expressed the same words of support he did back then: “The care of Tzu Chi volunteers is always there, and cares for the child throughout their life. In the future, whether it’s in school, in the workplace, or in the course of life, anytime you have a problem, please feel free to come back to us.”

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