One More Candle to the Light: Celebrating 30 Years of Youth Empowerment

Written by Adriana DiBenedetto

In Sacramento, California, Tzu Chi volunteers, and Tzu Chi Collegiate Association members take part in a quarterly cleanup event on the American River Parkway in 2017. Photo/Tzu Chi Collegiate Association


One light shines bright, many lights illuminate the night.

This year, 2022, marks an unforgettable one indeed, as we celebrate three active decades of youth empowerment with the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (TCCA). Alongside this milestone, the 2022 TCCA Leadership Conference, too, was set to create everlasting memories. It had been three years since TCCA members had their last in-person conference. But with masks in place and slideshows at the ready, 101 attendees were welcomed home to Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region Office in San Jose, California.

What is TCCA?

At the center of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association’s logo, two hands hold a candle, both encircled by a lotus flower — a reminder that we can all light a candle in this world and pass it on to others. In essence, this symbol shines at the heart of TCCA and guides the path onward as we celebrate three decades of youth empowerment.

The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association is about meaningful personal growth. It’s about lifting up young people’s voices and joining hands across generations to build a better future. It’s about envisioning the world you wish to leave behind for new generations and taking action to see that wish fulfilled. And, it’s about celebrating the impact that young people have in our community. 

Tzu Chi Collegiate Association members, also referred to as Tzu Ching, form an extensive network of collegiate volunteers that span the nation and all around the globe who are committed to making an impact. They bring forth the vitality to do good deeds with compassion, knowing the actions that we take here in our own community can have resonating effects.

These young leaders do so through meaningful youth innovation, social and environmental responsibility, and collaborative, community-focused efforts that build a platform for positive development.

We should grasp every chance to do something good, or else the chance will be gone and it will be too late. Some people want to do good deeds, but they want to wait until they have more money or time. Know that life is impermanent. When the opportunity comes, don’t be afraid that you have only a little strength – just do it.

The group works locally to improve campus environments via school activities, tutoring, community cleanup events, assistance at local food pantries, helping high school students with beginning their freshman year of college, and so much more. These programs launched by youths for youths promote morals, strengthen character, and nurture the Tzu Chi spirit of compassion without limits for all of Earth’s creatures.

Support Whole Communities With Our Whole Heart

Every year, a planning team with outstanding Tzu Ching members from across the U.S. is formed, mentors guiding youths to organize a leadership conference for current Tzu Ching officers to attend. For the planning team, it is an opportunity to cultivate one’s personal and professional skills. And for attendees, it presents advanced training to become better leaders within their local chapters.

Building upon prior teachings, this year’s TCCA Leadership Conference themes were “Protect life and diligently work for the good of all” and “Join hands together to spread the love with faith, vows, and action.” In the same vein, the slogan for the TCCA leadership conference, “One light shines bright, many lights illuminate the night,” refers to the goal of broadening TCCA members’ perspectives on service, expanding awareness from local chapters to the wider issues affecting the nation and the planet. Lessons at this multi-day event support youths in cultivating a healthier, more equitable, and sustainable future.

Classes are organized into four broad themes, or pillars, to help achieve the goals of the conference. These pillars are Community, Leadership, Service, and Dharma. Lessons on Community discuss how members can foster an inclusive and engaging community. Service classes open up conversations regarding creating more impactful service events that provide meaningful short and long-term benefits to the communities they serve. Lessons in Leadership delve into how TCCA members can develop to effectively work with each other in teams, toward a common set of objectives. And, last but not least, Dharma classes help attendees gain a better understanding of Tzu Chi’s principles, and how those form the backbone of everything Tzu Chi does. Altogether, these help would-be world changers who are unsure of where to start find and focus their calling. 

Manpreet Badhan (middle left) and Eduardo Rodriguez (middle right) attend the TCCA Northwest graduation ceremony. Photo/Tzu Chi Collegiate Association Volunteers
Eduardo Rodriguez (right) and TCCA students from UC Davis perform a Sign Language piece during the Annual Buddha Bathing Ceremony at Tzu Chi USA Northwest Region’s Sacramento Service Center on May 17, 2017. Photo/Tzu Chi Collegiate Association Volunteers

Opening Doors to the Heart

Eduardo Rodriguez currently works as a medical technician administering COVID-19 tests in New Orleans. He joined TCCA when he entered college, and at the time, they held a nursing home visit to give joy from the heart to the senior community residents. The act of giving to others was a mutually rewarding experience. Touched by the atmosphere of kindness from his peers, the supervisors, and the smiles of seniors, he kept coming back, eventually becoming a TCCA leader in his junior year of college. 

While not a current member of TCCA, Eduardo still carries that love ever forward and hopes to become a firefighter. 

In November of 2019, Manpreet Badhan (right) and fellow TCCA volunteers aid survivors of the West Butte Fire, providing emergency supplies, entertainment, and music. Photo/Tzu Chi Collegiate Association Volunteers

As a firefighter, you basically dedicate yourself to serving the public in times of need. Tzu Chi is the same; it’s dedicated to volunteer service, helping people, and changing your perspective [to be more mindful]. For me, it’s something that has always helped me in my career, because I’m not here to judge people. I’m here to help them.

Manpreet Badhan, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), was drawn to TCCA’s booth at a campus club fair. The students had been showcasing an eco-blanket that day, which Manpreet was moved and impressed to learn was made from reclaimed, recycled plastic bottles. This was the beginning of her vow to act as a member of Tzu Ching. 

One of my favorite things is going to the river and cleaning up. It feels like you’re hanging out at the beach, but you’re helping the environment.

When asked what being a part of Tzu Chi means to her, she replied, “It means being kind and compassionate to everyone and everything.” Indeed, the values Manpreet still carries from TCCA have helped guide her calling in medicine as she strives for humanistic, patient-focused care and advocacy. 

Tzu Ching member Alice Jean remembers going to a Tzu Chi community health fair as a child with her mother, a nurse who often helped administer flu shots. It was a Thanksgiving event, and at six years old, Alice offered lunch to the guests with a warm and welcoming smile. The experience started the wheels in her mind spinning, perhaps even inspiring her current philosophical trajectory within the medical field. 

As she continued on the path of a Tzu Ching, TCCA provided a funnel for Alice’s energy and a place to refresh and recharge, so that she and other youths could reach their potential — with confidence in themselves, in others, and the wider world. In Alice’s experience, “the people in TCCA really [see] that potential in young people” and hope to cultivate that, so young people can say with confidence, “I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to give it a try because I’ve got the support.” 

Alice Jean (right) attends a Tzu Chi medical outreach event at Indian Springs High School on June 12, 2022. Photo/Tzu Chi Collegiate Association Volunteers
Alice Jean and fellow volunteers reach their goal of registering over 100 new bone marrow donors at a 3-day event at Littlefield Fountain. Alice had recently shaved her head to raise funds for cancer research as part of UT Austin’s annual Brave the Shave event. Photo/Tzu Chi Collegiate Association Volunteers

As a family and preventive medicine resident physician, Alice’s medical mission is centered upon compassion without bounds, particularly, “truly caring about someone and their health. So, not just the health, but caring about the person you see in front of you.” What also drew Alice Jean to Tzu Chi, and kept her coming back, was their view on service. “I think [the] people who are in the organization truly love serving just for serving,” she said. “They are there because their heart is there.” 

These stories are just a few of the many memorable experiences held by TCCA members. And, as we celebrate thirty years, we look forward to all of the wonderful memories to come.

Let us strive onward with these messages in mind, carrying forth curiosity and compassion, always. Because like a firefly emits its sparkling light, many working together can illuminate the night, one by one, their radiance increasing. Learn more about the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association, become a member, or support TCCA’s programs by visiting


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