TIMA USA Northwest

Part 5

Written by Vivian Chang, Jennifer Chien, Karen Hsiang, Janet Li, Jessie Lin, Renee Liu, Kitty Lu, and Sherry Shih
Edited by Yingying Lee

On October 20, 2003, TIMA Modesto offers free flu shots to the public at the Modesto Service Center with Yingli Yang (second left), then head of the Service Center, coordinating the activity. Photo/Ray Walton


TIMA Modesto

TIMA Modesto was formally established in June 2007 to help serve low-income community members without health insurance. Its services include acupuncture, Western medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, and more. There are currently eight professional healthcare workers and ten Tzu Chi volunteers who participate in the Modesto chapter’s activities regularly.

Modesto is located in Stanislaus County along Highway 99 in Northern California’s Central Valley, about a two-hour drive from the well-known tourist destination of Yosemite National Park.

“TIMA Modesto does not have a Mobile Clinic or a designated clinic,” explained Yingli Yang, a veteran volunteer. “For nearly 20 years, the team has worked with the Modesto city government and Merced County to provide free medical services in low-income communities,” he said.

The Farmer Who Sows Seeds of Healing

Yingli Yang is the former director of the Modesto Service Center. In describing his role, Yang said he was a farmer with little to do with medical care. “In 1996, there was a flood here, and San Jose volunteers, Silicon Valley Grandma Shiauchin Wang Lin and Austin Tsao, led a team and came over to provide relief. And I was able to connect with Tzu Chi. In the following year, 1997, I set up the Tzu Chi Modesto Service Center here,” he recounted.

Dr. Chorngjen Hwang (right) sees a patient on July 18, 2010. Photo/Nancy Ku

“We promoted Tzu Chi in the community. It was not until 1999 that we tried our first medical activity, providing flu shots in our office at the beginning by inviting licensed doctors and nurses to come and support us. Since it was the first time we conducted medical activities, everyone was very excited. It was also the first time that the local people were introduced to Tzu Chi’s free medical services,” Yang said, outlining how the medical mission began.

“In 2001, we participated in the free clinic activity at the Fresno Service Center, which further enhanced Modesto’s determination to carry out more medical care, because there are many farmworkers in our Central Valley area, and 90% of them are Hispanic and many do not have legal status or medical insurance. They are also afraid to go out to seek medical treatment and, therefore, need medical care more urgently,” he continued, revealing the situation in this service area.

Modesto is located in the San Joaquin Valley, one of California’s most productive agricultural areas, and is known for its dairy products, nuts, and melons. Yet the hardships of farmworkers are little known. Many people are undocumented with poor-quality housing, low pay, lack of legal protection, and no medical insurance.

On July 28, 2002, Tzu Chi held its first free clinic event in Modesto, providing Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western medicine, ophthalmology, dentistry, and pediatric services, as well as blood pressure, glucose, hemoglobin, and cholesterol measurements and tests. The event mobilized a total of 130 healthcare professionals and volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s Northwest Region. The team from the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra was also there to support the activity. The event aimed to focus on farmworkers and low-income families, and 465 people were served.

The inaugural free clinic event showed Modesto volunteers the urgent needs of the local farmworkers, as well as their happiness when attending, which further bolstered Yingli Yang’s and the volunteers’ desire to offer such free medical services. A blueprint for Tzu Chi’s medical activities was constantly being developed in Yang’s mind. Several years later, his wish was finally realized. One of the reasons for this is that Tzu Chi is very mindful of starting free clinic activities. Before a new TIMA chapter can conduct free clinic activities, its members must go to other regions for “internship and observation,” where members of the more developed TIMAs can coach them for a certain period. 

In 2007, Dr. Chorngjen Hwang moved from Ohio to Modesto and became the TIMA convenor. “Later, we went to Los Angeles. With the help of the then Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation manager Debra Bourdeaux, who is the current CEO of Tzu Chi USA, and volunteer Huiping Wang, TIMA Modesto was finally officially established,” said Yang.

Treating a Full Mouth of Teeth in Three Years

Due to its small workforce, each time TIMA Modesto conducted free clinics in the early days, support from other teams was required for the activity to be successful. Medical professionals and volunteers from Stockton, Tracey, and Fresno would come to help. There was also support from as far away as Sacramento and San Jose. All teams helped to make the free clinics thrive.

A doctor treats a patient’s teeth on July 22, 2012. Photo/Nancy Ku

Many Modesto residents rely on Tzu Chi for free medical care, especially dental care, as the scope of need is often not covered by medical insurance.

There was once a patient who had a very severe dental condition. He didn’t have medical insurance and had to look to Tzu Chi’s free dental activities to address his condition. Yingli Yang expressed feeling somewhat helpless when mentioning this case: “We had a rule that patients could only have one tooth treated at a time and could only choose one of the services: Scaling, extraction, and filling. This patient could not solve all his dental problems at once, so he came to see us year after year, pursuing our free clinics for three years before he could have his dental problems completely treated.”

Winter Flooding

Led by Yingli Yang, in 2022, TIMA Modesto volunteers participated in the Care 4 Highway 99 vision care program run by Fresno’s mobile clinic team. For TIMA Modesto, this medical outreach service, developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, could motivate its volunteers to come out and get involved, while the Fresno mobile clinic teamremained in charge of discussion, evaluation, planning, and execution of the program. Modesto is located halfway between Stockton, Sacramento, and Fresno, and due to the Fresno team’s plan of conducting at least 14–20 free medical events per year, it would be more convenient and practical to set off from Modesto. For this reason, TIMA Fresno temporarily stored ophthalmic equipment in Yang’s home, who was more than happy to lead the Modesto team in carrying out this extended program.

Volunteer Tony Ma gives free haircuts to patients who came to a free dental care event on July 22, 2012. Photo/Nancy Ku

We were able to do the optometry part, and TIMA Fresno is well-equipped to work on the lenses. So, our partnership with them could allow people to get new eyeglasses within 48 hours.

At the end of December 2022, Northern California continued to experience heavy rains, resulting in sharply rising water levels. The heavy rain caused flooding in many areas and flooded streets. President Biden declared a state of emergency in California on January 9, 2023. Floods caused severe damage in Merced County, including the Planada community just a short distance away. Many residents lost their homes and everything they owned, including their eyeglasses. The Fresno mobile clinic team contacted the local school district superintendent through TIMA Modesto. Upon reaching an agreement, two free vision care clinic events were held at Planada Elementary School and two at Cesar E. Chavez Middle School, where children received vision exams and prescription eyeglasses if needed.

Partnering with the City

In July 2003, the Modesto Service Center accepted the invitation of the City of Modesto Parks, Recreation & Neighborhoods Department to conduct a free medical service event for the local community at César E. Chávez Park. The volunteers were happy to receive this invitation and immediately met to discuss related matters. They finally decided to form a free clinic team of two Western medicine doctors, two Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctors, three dentists, five nurses, and 75 Tzu Chi volunteers. Among them, 39 were local volunteers from Modesto, while the other 36 came from San Jose, Fresno, Sacramento, and Stockton.

Bilingual volunteers were everywhere at the scene, asking questions and caring for the patients, ensuring their forms were filled out so their consultation would go smoothly. Many people from the Central Valley who came to the event were agricultural workers who did not speak English as their first language, so there was a great need for volunteer translators who not only understood and spoke fluent Spanish and English, but also understood the cultural background of the patients who came to the clinic. 

After the free medical outreach event concluded, the City of Modesto Parks, Recreation & Neighborhoods Department staff mentioned that there were many low-income families and people experiencing homelessness in the area, who all shared their hope that Tzu Chi could organize free clinics more times per year, and the City would do its best to provide venues and related equipment. Since then, Modesto and the City of Modesto Parks, Recreation & Neighborhoods Department have worked together to hold the clinic event every July, pausing only for three years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From 2010 to 2023, TIMA Modesto partnered with Merced County to hold a free clinic at Tenaya Middle School on the first Sunday of November each year; the services included TCM, Western medicine, and dentistry. Despite these efforts, Tzu Chi’s team always hoped to do more for the communities they serve. Yingli Yang lamented, “The demand for the dental free clinic was particularly strong, with more than 100 people lining up early in the morning. Due to equipment and the number of doctors, the clinic was only able to take about 70 patients at a time, which was quite regrettable.”

Another challenge was related to facilitating the event’s mission in the long term. “We have no problems with our medical hardware and equipment, professional medical staff, and enthusiastic volunteers. However, many of the people who come to the free clinic leave without providing complete info due to lack of a fixed residence, making it impossible to follow up on individual cases,” Yang said.  

The medical volunteers, including Yang, all share this concern regarding relieving patients’ pain, because a single meeting may not be enough to truly help those in need of support. This dedication is the most essential feature of Tzu Chi’s medical mission. Even though there are many hurdles, the volunteers will not give up easily. There is still a long way to go in the future, but in this vast region, Tzu Chi’s love is even more expansive than the land.

TIMA Seattle

“TIMA Seattle was established in Seattle Chinatown on June 26, 2004, which happened to be the opening day of the Tzu Chi Seattle Chinatown Service Center,” said Angela Wan, a first-generation Seattle volunteer who has followed Tzu Chi for 30 years.

TIMA Seattle has conducted medical consultations and lectures at the Tzu Chi Chinatown Service Center and the Chinatown Community Center since 2004.

TIMA Seattle has also provided free flu shots to students in low-income school districts. In 2012, it began a partnership with Walgreens Pharmacy. “Luckily, we knew a pharmacist at Walgreens Pharmacy, and we’ve been providing free flu shots and medical counseling to the community at the Chinatown Community Center,” said Wan.

In addition, TIMA Seattle has regularly participated in four large-scale neighborhood events each year: Seattle Chinatown Seafair, Washington State Fair, Chinese Information and Service Center Annual Senior Resource Fair, and Living Well Health Fair. At the event booths, TIMA provided residents with blood sugar and blood pressure measurement, medical consultations, and other services. Besides large-scale events, TIMA doctors periodically worked with volunteers to provide home care, offering free acupuncture and rehab consultations for individual care recipients.

Between 2021 and 2022, when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation, TIMA provided free COVID-19 vaccinations to Seattle residents eight times, garnering an unprecedented response.

The secret to 30 years of relentless perseverance is the courageous heart of a lion, the pure heart of a child, and the patience of a camel. Listen to the words of Master Cheng Yen, do the right thing when the thing is right!

TIMA Seattle offers free blood sugar and blood pressure measurement, as well as medical consultations on March 30, 2019. Photo/Angela Wan


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