Category Archives: Giving Back to the Community

Why I’m Optimistic About our Nation’s Future – Voice of Democracy Essay Competition

photo-5Stranded Starfish

By Cassandra Hsiao

Third Place in the 2013-2014 Voice of Democary Audio Essay Scholarship Competition for District Six 

The sun kissed the horizon and stretched its rays to the beach. Waves crashed against the shore as the water began to recede. Stranded starfish were scattered on the sand for miles up the beach. The tide retreated and the starfish started to bake in the sun. A young boy reached down and gently flung the starfish back to sea. He fought tears and tried not to remember how his older brother and his friends taunted him, laughing that he’d be there for an eternity picking up the thousands of starfish. “It does makes a difference,” he whispered to himself fiercely and tossed another one into the waves. He straightened up and looked out into the horizon, imagining a smiling starfish happy to be back in the water. “It made a difference at least to that one.”

We’ve all heard some version of this tale before. It’s hard not to look through paradigms of pessimism at not only saving stranded starfish, but also at making a difference in the community. After all, what can one simple act of kindness do? The answer is, it may be enough to spark an underground movement that could change a nation’s future – with the perks of a better education and a youth geared program.

With America’s economy crisis including a high unemployment rate and a growing number of food insecure families, it’s easy to squint and predict our nation heading downhill on a dark, bleak desolate road. On the currents we are drifting with now, no one can say for sure – but I believe we can make changes for the better.

Why am I so optimistic? You ask. Ever since the invention of Facebook, social networking has burst into the frontiers of everyday life. “What?” You may say. “This is one of America’s biggest problems! Unmotivated teenagers glued to the screen, instant messaging, tweeting, status updating, and posting!” But I say, this makes change in America easier! Communication has increased so greatly that anything can be instantly shared and passed along.

After the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, a campaign went viral. Ann Curry from NBC News tweeted an idea simple in its concept – do 26 acts of kindness in remembrance of the 20 kids and 6 adults that died in the shooting. It sparked a movement in which thousands have tweeted back about how they’ve spread the kindness, such as anonymously paying for a co-worker’s coffee, helping strangers, and delivering meals. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all played huge roles in sharing this wave of random acts. People became so passionate about these small acts of kindness, just like the boy who rescued stranded starfish. In fact, the 26 Acts of Kindness Facebook page has garnered over 100,000 likes.

Education has also improved – it’s now cheaper and more accessible! The Gates Foundation did a study in 2008 that found that young adults from ages 18 to 26 would like to pursue college degrees but are afraid they would be too overwhelmed with family, work, and school. Now, online education makes students’ schedules flexible, allowing instant access all around the clock. Some of the world’s leading universities have released free online courses. In 2001, MIT offered OpenCourseWare, a program that allows anyone to access the college courses for free. Students can watch tutorials and lectures online with a click of a button. With a world of knowledge right at our fingertips, America’s next generation can easily access current events, trending topics, and the tools needed to fight for what we believe in.

With a push in the right direction and a nod from the older, experienced generation, I am optimistic about America’s future. I believe young people are actually open and willing to take the responsibility as our country’s leaders – as long as we are well prepared. Like the little boy walking the shore, if the idea that “making a difference, no matter how small” can take root, our generation will be well-equipped with the perks of social media, accessible education, and advice from our elders to step up and revolutionize the world. Although big changes may not happen anytime soon, it’s saving the stranded starfish that count.



A Lonely Soul on a Busy Street

DSC_0256A Lonely Soul on a Busy Street

When I was on my way to school early in the morning two days ago, I spotted an African American woman in her 50s sitting on the bus bench in front of Applebee’s along Grand Ave. She covered her head with a hood and wore layers upon layers of clothing – all alone and huddling underneath a thin blanket. She had a duffel bag with her. My parents had spotted her a couple of times wandering precariously around Walnut area for at least couple of months now.

I couldn’t believe that she spent her night there. I couldn’t imagine how she could stay out there for the entire night with temperatures 37F and below. I could barely spend five minutes in the freezing cold outside myself. My heart ached when I thought of her.

I knew I had to do something – anything. Maybe all she needed was to be shown a bit of kindness.

Right after I came back from my school in the evening, I still saw the homeless woman. She had covered herself from head to toe with the ragged blanket. She was there alone.

DSC_0259I was scared to approach her by myself, so my mom accompanied me. I wanted to buy dinner for her and I decided to ask her. I quietly said, “Excuse me.”

She coughed badly and pulled down the blanket.

I asked openly and gently, “Are you hungry? Do you want some food?”

She started to say rant something about Bible Scriptures and warned us not to “sup” with her. She seemed very defensive about us buying food for her. We nodded our heads although we had no idea what she was talking about. She must have faced a lot of isolation and scorn. It broke my heart to see that she condemned herself. She must be emotionally and physically exhausted.

Now I knew I didn’t just want to help her, I had to help her. If everyone passing by just said, “Someone else will take care of her,” then no one would take the time to help her!

DSC_0263Then I asked if she wanted money. She said yes and I gave her a twenty-dollar bill. She said, “Thank You,” averting her gaze.

I don’t know how much a twenty-dollar bill can do. I don’t know how much a thirteen year old can do. How can one little act of kindness change the world? But, as Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” And if everyone did an act of kindness every day, perhaps love will once again make the world go round.

It doesn’t matter why she is homeless, whether because of unemployment, addiction, mental illness, or maybe she chose her lifestyle. The fact is, being homeless is painful.

Sometimes all people need is a little loving push in the right direction. I know that I can’t stride into her life and make decisions for her. But I can just be there, being present by sending her some food, blanket or prayer etc. I may feel powerless to help someone in a difficult situation, but the power of prayer connects me with a almighty God!

Now more and more people are sleeping out on the streets due to the tough economy. I know there are countless of homeless people out there. We can’t help them all. But I can’t ignore the only homeless person in my community (City of Walnut), and not offer a helping hand.

Because I know, if you look into someone’s eyes, you’ll see a galaxy. You’ll see an ever-shifting, never-ending galaxy of stars, held together by the very fragile hold of a universe of memories. The galaxy is the very essence of who they are. I looked into the woman’s eyes and I knew that her galaxy was there – it was just hidden by defensive walls of hardships. That is when it is so important to meet someone’s eyes, to see their galaxies, because although galaxies alone are weak, galaxies interlocked make up an undefeatable universe.

She is still sitting there as of today. So if you see her on the bus bench, you can help her out by buying her food, giving her money or blankets, or praying for her in these especially tough economic times while long-term help is on its way.

Walnut Sheriff’s and Officials Working to Aid Homeless Woman

Recently, Diamond Bar-Walnut Patch blogger Cassandra Hsiao wrote about a homeless woman who regularly sleeps on a bus benchnear the McDonald’s on Grand Avenue.

Hsiao reached out to the community and to city officials in an effort to get the woman, who is suspected of having some mental health issues, assistance.

At last week’s Walnut City Council meeting, staff gave an update on what the city has done so far in reaching out to the unnamed woman.

Mary Rooney, the city’s community services director, said that Walnut Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Daley has made contact with the woman, going “above and beyond.”

The contacts provided a chance to make an assessment and get information needed to get her the assistance she needs, Rooney said.

“There is lots of reluctance and someone needs to want to accept the help,” she said.  “The idea is to allow clergy and social services and as many people make contact in the hopes that one day she will accept that assistance.”

Mayor Mary Su said that a social worker is assisting the woman. Several facilities and churches are willing to offer her a place to stay for a week or two weeks, but she can’t be forced to leave, Su said.

“She likes Walnut,” she said.  “If a person has mental illness, the sheriff’s cannot force her or take her away.  She has to be willing to go on her own.”

The Sheriff’s Department has contacted the woman’s family and they are unwilling or unable to help, Su said.

The mayor urged the public not to give her money, adding that donations might make it harder to get her to accept help from social services.

“It is not safer for her to live on the bench,” Su said.  “The social worker is working with her. Let the social worker and the sheriff’s deal with her at this point.”

Operation Dream-Anonymous extraordinaries


Anonymous extraordinaries are people who strongly believe in something and they work selflessly and vigorously to support that cause. They are people who are motivated by conviction and not recognition. They are people doing whatever they can for what they believe in, single-mindedly as a group without a care to who is watching.

Karin Olivo and Robin

Karin Olivo and Robin

They are people like the Operation DREAM team! We had our Pack and Stack party on January 5, 2013, the conclusion of our missions from October through December. We packed all the cans into big boxes to be sent to Haiti and the DR. The founders, the Olivo family, came over too! George, Argie, Karin, Daniel and their friend Robin were all present.


14 boxes of canned food with 1400 pounds.

This year we have collected 14 boxes of canned food, each box about 100 pounds, triple of what we collected in the year of 2011.

Operation DREAM’s mission is to help Haiti and Dominican Republic orphans not only in body, but spiritually as well. Another part of their mission is to help people to DREAM big, to empower youth to become leaders. We also inspired other people as well – not only the people who donate cans, but those who are wondering what in the world are these kids doing outside on a Saturday afternoon be it rain or shine. It’s a great feeling to know that one’s actions make a difference a world away.

Throughout these nine group missions, by going door-to-door around the neighborhood , organizing school and church food drives, God has truly shown us His blessings and favor. Even when the odds were stacked against us, He multiplied the canned food just like He did in the Bible story of the five loaves of bread and two fish. Our God is an awesome God!

Every week, I could see the growth in my team members. They boldly stepped out of their comfort zone and lead younger children as well. A couple of my team members shared their stories of how Operation DREAM had impacted them.


(2nd left )Melody Hsu, Belinda Lee, Miriam Sun

“It’s really cool to see how people will go out of their ways to help these kids that they don’t even know,” said Miriam, age 14.

Melody Hsu, age 13, reflected back on the missions. “It’s great knowing that when people donate cans, you’re not doing this for yourself, you’re doing it for others.”

“Last year I was just a follower,” explained Belinda Lee, age 16. “But this year I knew I had to step up as a leader, and instead of having my close friends about the same age in my group, I found myself with all the younger kids. I realized I had to set a good example for them.” Belinda turned missions into a fun competition to encourage her younger team members.

George Olivo, the President of Operation DREAM, spoke about God’s ultimate plan and how we bring hope to the orphans.


Mr George Olivo

“For these kids, these canned food are an answer to prayer,” said Olivo. “Many people ask, ‘Why doesn’t God feed these people?’ He helps those people by giving people like us extra so that we can share. The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough food in the world – there’s enough food for every man and woman to have three meals a day. God allows us to share what we have with the less fortunate people. Some people ask, ‘Well why doesn’t God give enough to everybody? Then we won’t have this problem!’ Then we would all miss out on the blessings of not only giving but receiving as well.”

Even though the Operation DREAM team is made up of anonymous extraordinaries, those who have completed the minimum of ten hours were recognized with a Certificate of Appreciation for making a difference in door-to-door hunger relief campaign. One can make a difference. Every act counts. Kindness is contagious.


(Back Left to Right)Carolyn Lee, Tiffany Han, Miriam Sun, Belinda Lee, Melody Hsu, Cynthia Lu, Cassandra Hsiao, Jacinta Lu, Sarah Lew
(Front) Nathan, Katelyn Chi, Jeremy Hsiao with Cherry (dog), Desmond Chi

Thank you team for your hard work, thank you parents for supporting us from day one, and thank you Olivo Family for everything that you’ve done!

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
― Aesop

He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.
– Proverbs 22:9

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12

Walnut Youths’ Can-Do Attitude Feeds Orphans

The food local children collected will benefit Operation DREAM, a charity a family started to provide food to poor children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

By Melanie C. Johnson

Cassandra Hsiao began her effort to collect canned good for orphanages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with four friends.

The young Walnut girl’s group soon grew to 10.  That 10 turned into several packed cars.

Cassandra and her team, as she calls the other youth who braved going door to door in Walnut, West Covina, and Rowland Heights to ask for food donations, collected 550 pounds of canned and packaged goods that will be shipped to the two countries in early January by Operation DREAM, a charity that combats hunger.

“They are the ones who came out with me every Saturday just giving their time to the poor,” she said of the group.  “They sacrificed their time to collect these cans.”

Walnut Patch Editor Melanie and Me

Besides experiencing a few slammed doors, Cassandra said she and the other children involved in the food drive also learned a valuable lesson about the power of youth to make a difference in their communities and the world.

That was the hope of the founders of Operation DREAM, specifically the brainchild behind the charity, 16-year-old Karin Olivo.

Karin, touched by television infomercials featuring starving children in Africa and other countries, told her parents she wanted to do something to help, said dad George Olivo.  She started with a bake sale in 2009 where she raised $1,000.   The family sent the money to an orphanage in Haiti, but that was not enough for Karin, who wanted to see those she was helping in person, Olivo said.

The Palos Verdes teen kept after her mom and dad for a year until they agreed to take the trip.  Olivo’s parents immigrated to the United States from the neighboring Dominican Republic.  After speaking with a cousin there, the family of four made plans for a visit to both countries and collected 800 pounds of clothing to give to those in need.

Checking expiration date of canned foods

What they saw when they got there was worse than they imagined, Olivo said.

“We imagined the worst and it was worse than that,” said the FBI agent.   “It really changed our lives.”

Karin said she was specifically drawn to Haiti after doing some research and finding out it was the poorest country in the world.  Her father’s ties to the Dominican Republic and its proximity to Haiti made that country a natural fit as well for the charity.

“They are a lot like us and like me,” she said of the children she has met in the orphanages.  “I love to help people in general and when I found out there was a direct connection through the cousins, I wanted to help.”

Karin has visited the two countries three times, including a few months after the 2010 earthquake.  She also goes to elementary and middle schools to talk to students about Operation DREAM.

George Olivio, Me, Karin Olivio

On Saturday, the Olivo family came to Cassandra’s home to help the group pack their food into boxes for delivery.  The group of children involved in the local effort and their parents bent over opened boxes searching for expired items.  Shipments can be completely rejected if inspectors in the Dominican Republic find too many expired cans.

As Olivo helped the group, he said he felt proud of the effort of Walnut’s youth.

“This is what our vision was, to empower kids to help and then to go out and become leaders,” he said.  “We believe those who give and those who receive will both be blessed.”

Published @

Living with Cerebral Palsy

Angela & Celine performed “Baby” & “Never Say Never” – Great performance !!! I bet Justin Bieber would love how you sang

Last Saturday (11/13/11), even though it was cold and rainy outside, it was so warm inside Mrs. Eva Westfall(Board of Treasure) ‘s house, because we were all gathered for a good cause. I was honored to host an annual “Love Our Kids” fundraising event for Cerebral Palsy CareNet Organization. They provide services to individuals with Cerebral Palsy, and the money we raised goes to help children with Cerebral Palsy.

Never heard of Cerebral Palsy?  CP is a movement disorder caused by the permanent brain injuries that affect an infant during the time of birth or pregnancy causes the loss of abilities to lead a normal life. Their gross motor skills are affected, and kids often use crutches, or wheelchairs to move around. Kids with spastic CP, the most common type of CP, can’t relax their muscles or their muscles are really stiff. Even in some cases, kids have trouble speaking or can’t speak at all.

CP can’t be cured, but steps can be taken to help the child to start leading a normal life. Polfit Wellness is one of the many therapies that help them develop skills such as walking, sitting, bending, and crawling. Polfit Wellness offers Polish Fitness Training which include one-to-one, “hands-on” neuro-muscular retraining. They offer families of children with special needs a kind of help and hope that may change their lives for the better.

Angela Oyama and Benjamin Sun

Two of my friends have CP. Since birth, 14-year-old Angela Oyama and 15-year-old Benjamin Sun have been on their wheelchairs. They struggle on a daily basis with cerebral palsy. Benjamin has unpredictable seizures as a result of the injury and trauma to certain areas of his brain. His mother, Rebecca, devotes her entire day attending to him but at times broke down after noticing her son’s helplessness. But now through her faith in Jesus whom is her central source of strength, she finds the confidence to build a rewarding life together with her son.

Angela is a courageous and beautiful girl. She attends regular school despite all the obstacles she faces every day. She’s a serious die-hard fan of Justin Bieber, and her biggest dream is to meet JB. In fact, for one of the fund-raising programs, she and her friend Celine Chen sang two of Justin’s songs – “Baby” and “Never Say Never!” At the end she even raised herself a little in her wheelchair and shouted, “Never say never, everyone!” I think Justin Bieber would have LOVED their performance, and I sincerely hope that their paths will cross someday.

Although their journey is full of challenges, hardship, and difficulties, they show great endurance and perseverance despite their physical disabilities. Both of them maintain a regular schedule of physical and occupational therapy. You see, it is not only a vigorous workout to accomplish normal everyday tasks, but CP creates financial challenges. It’s a financial burden for the parents to care for a child with CP. That’s why CPCareNet gathered to financially aid those affected by CP.

At the event, everyone in attendance had a goal: not only to raise funds  but to educate people outside of CPCareNet about CP and to understand the disorder themselves. If you would like to donate, please contact me at this email

Published @ Walnut Patch


Trick-Or-Treat So Kids Can Eat on Halloween Night

小朋友萬聖做慈善 募捐食物罐頭

We went door-to-door around our neighborhood asking for donations of canned goods. ETTV America interviewed us !

Watch the videos :- (In Chinese)

華裔女生愛慈善 父母分享育兒經

We are supporting Operation DREAM :-


Local Girl Has a Dream to Aid the Hungry

Cassandra Hsiao, a 12-year-old Walnut girl, and some of her Facebook friends plan to go door-to-door in local communities to collect food for orphan children in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

By Melanie C. Johnson

Cassandra Hsiao hopes to collect food for children in need with a little help from the community.

The 12-year-old and a group of her Facebook friends went around her Walnut neighborhood last Saturday asking for donations for Haiti orphans.  The group collected 89 cans of food in two hours, she said.

The group plans to do the same this weekend and weekly until December, she said.

The food donated will go to Operation DREAM, an organization with a mission to feed poor, orphan children in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  The charity’s goal is to raise 10,000 pounds of food by Dec. 31, Cassandra said.

The seventh grader said she got involved in collecting food for Operation DREAM last year, going door-to-door to ask for canned goods, dried beans and rice.   She said she was moved by the family of four who started the organization after a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2009.

“When some houses didn’t open the door, I learned patience, perseverance, and endurance; when some people were not that friendly, I learned how to forgive,” Cassandra said of her experience last year. “Yet most of the people I met were gentle, generous, enthusiastic, and ready to give to the hungry and needy children. I also learned to be grateful for what I have, for orphanages in Haiti and the Dominican Republic have to worry whether they will get a next meal.”

This year, Cassandra plans to do the same, but on a larger scale, she said. She and her friends plan to go around neighborhoods in Walnut, Diamond Bar, San Dimas, West Covina, and Rowland Heights to ask for donations for canned food every Saturday.

“I have a vision to create a community where good character is encouraged and rewarded, and Operation DREAM is the perfect opportunity for me and my friends to develop character through helping people a world away,” she said. “I would also like to encourage our community to get involved in the life of others by giving a helping hand to those in need.”

Students looking to seeking ways to complete school-required community service hours can do so by collecting their own boxes with needed items such as canned meat, chicken, and fish, as well as peanut butter, oatmeal, pasta, rice, and beans, she said. The aim is to prepare 24-by-17-by-15 boxes. 

The boxes are shipped to the Dominican Republic and Haiti with the rest of the Operation DREAM hunger relief shipment.

Anyone in the community wishing to donate food items can contact Cassandra by email at


First Published @ Walnut Patch

A Summer of Joy to Give Away

What’s the best way to spend summer vacation? Many teens spend their summer vacation in summer school, summer  camps, and alternating between the computer and hanging out with friends. I realized that there is a more meaningful and fruitful way to spend my summer.

Two months ago,  Pastor Howard at my church shared his testimonies about his outreach to the senior centers.  I was very inspired by his message, and I wanted to bring joy to the seniors.

I started organizing a musical performance at The Regency Grand at West Covina Assisted Living and Independent Living Senior Center. I asked many of my friends to join, and soon I had about 10 performers from ages 8 – 16.

Finally, the day of the performance June 26 afternoon was here. I stepped up to the challenge, walking into the senior center with my fellow performers. In front of me were many seniors in wheelchairs or had walking sticks or canes. My friends and I handed out our program pamphlets and invited the seniors to watch our performance. The seniors made their way slowly towards the multipurpose room, eagerly waiting our program to start. I was very touched by their friendliness and eagerness, but I also felt their loneliness.

Once the performance got rolling smoothly, I could see the joy in the smiles of the seniors and in the enthusiastic applause after every performer. Our youth group played many instruments which include violin, cello, piano and flute. 8-year-old Kaitlyn sang “My favorite thing ” from the Sound of music; Jesse Chow (15 years old) performed break dance and Jeremy Hsiao (8 years old) recited “Jesus Throughout the Bible”.

Pastor Howard gave a great message about the Good News, and many hands went up when he asked who would like to invite Jesus into their lives. I was thrilled to see so many people saved that day. Praise the Lord!

Many seniors silently mouthing “beautiful” or “wonderful” during the performance. They told me that they really enjoyed it and wanted us to visit them again.

It was amazing to see the impact our musical performance had on the seniors. Although I faced a few hardships while organizing this event, it certainly paid off in the end. The joy on their faces was unmistakable, and it felt good to bring happiness to those who are in need of cheerfulness. I hope our musical performance will encourage you to make a difference. Making a difference is about actions. It’s about loving and doing good anyways, no matter what circumstances. Just like the Bible says in 1 Timothy 4:12 – “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”  The best way to spend summer vacation is to bring joy to others. We can put our youthfulness and energy into making a difference in people’s lives!!!


Published @

DREAMin’ Big


Teenager’s organization helps feed the hungry

Find out more on the Operation DREAM website.

 It all started when then-9-year-old Karin Olivo saw an infomercial on TV. It was the first time she realized how badly kids in the Dominican Republic were starving.

“They had bloated stomachs and there were flies all around,” Karin told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. “I saw the horrible environment and shelter they were living in.”

Six years later, in June 2009, the Olivo family went on a trip to the Dominican Republic. Karin was shocked by the incredible poverty. It opened her eyes to the problems in third world nations. The whole family came back changed.

Karin wanted to do something to help the people she saw suffering. So with the help of her family and friends, Karin started Operation DREAM, which stands for Dominican Republic Emergency Aid Mission.

The mission of Operation DREAM is to deliver hope by feeding those who are hungry, both in body and in spirit. It also strives to inspire young people to dream big by empowering them to make a difference in their world.

“I have this heart-wrenching feeling when I see the poor people [of the Dominican Republic],” Karin said. “That just really got to me—what a good life I have here and what a poor life they lead and I want to make their lives better.”

For their first effort, Karin and her family sent food to the region. Five tons of hunger relief supplies were delivered to the Dominican Republic in December 2009.

Now 15, Karin continues her efforts. She speaks at schools in her community about the hunger problem in the Dominican Republic. Students have responded generously by contributing to the program.

In July 2010, the Olivo family went on another mission trip to support the orphanages they were sponsoring. With the help of local villagers, the family built seven bunk beds, replaced 35 mattresses, installed a water pump, and built a swing set.

“On both of our trips, these people were so happy to get everything that we delivered,” Karin said.

Karin is now hosting a big food drive called “Adopt-a-Box.” She gives cardboard boxes to families to fill with canned food and rice. Operation DREAM needs to fill 125 boxes to meet its goal of 10,000 pounds of food by this Christmas.

The Adopt-a-Box program is part of Karin’s vision for the growth of Operation DREAM.

“I see Operation DREAM in more orphanages and slums,” Karin explained. “I see more people stepping out and helping us.”

©Scholastic Inc. First published online at :

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