“I remember when my parents worked two jobs to pay rent and collected free stuffed animals from the fire department as Christmas gifts for my brother and me. When I’m helping others, it feels like I am helping my own family,” Daniel Luu says.
Like many students at San Francisco’s Mission High School, Daniel is the son of immigrants. His parents came to the United States from Vietnam in the hopes of escaping poverty and political instability, but assimilating and making ends meet was tough. They worked in restaurants day and night and spent their mornings delivering newspapers all over the city.
Daniel also faced his own challenges from the start. He grew up speaking Vietnamese, which made school difficult when he struggled to learn English.
“Struggling with reading made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. It became frustrating. I lost confidence and started to compare myself with others. I always want to be the best, but it is hard when things are easier for everyone else,” Daniel says.
By eighth grade, Daniel was falling behind and found out that he would be placed in an English Language Learners class in high school. Determined to reach his full potential, he motivated himself to improve. He challenged himself to practice reading and writing at home and asked his teachers for extra help.
Daniel’s English skills kept improving in high school, but he remembered what it felt like to struggle. So when buildOn gave him the opportunity volunteer with Reading Partners, an after-school tutoring program for elementary school students, he jumped at the opportunity to help kids like himself. Daniel wanted to help these students realize their potential since he knew what it is like to not be able to keep up with his classmates. He’s since tutored a number of elementary school students over the last three years.
One student especially stands out in Daniel’s memory. Anthony was in third grade, but reading two years below his grade level when Daniel met him. Tutoring him was difficult, but Daniel stuck with it. Daniel changed the lessons to better match Anthony’s pace and learning style and created games to make learning fun. Before long, Anthony started improving. He started to bring books home with him and actually enjoy reading.
Daniel knew that Anthony was facing his own hurdles in life. His brother was in jail, his father was not in his life and he came from a poor community.
“It made me sad that he had to go through so many difficulties, but I felt like I could be a role model for him,” Daniel says. “Helping students achieve is an amazing feeling.”
Daniel realized that without someone to support him from a young age, Anthony might face greater challenges later in life.
“[Tutoring] made me feel like I was helping limit poverty too. I learned from buildOn that education is a key to eliminating poverty around the world. Students [like Anthony] fall behind in their reading level because, oftentimes, no one reads to them at home. This puts them at a greater risk of dropping out of school,” Daniel says.
Anthony inspired Daniel to keep advocating for education and poverty reduction beyond buildOn. Tutoring Anthony even encouraged Daniel to keep improving his own English skills, leading him to sign up for more difficult classes at school.
Daniel is graduating this year with an excellent academic record thanks to constant perseverance. When he goes to college next year, Daniel wants to start a community service club to empower other students to have an impact like he’s had through buildOn. He wants to keep making a difference into the future, maybe by founding his own nonprofit one day.
“buildOn influenced me to understand that everything I do has a purpose and contributes to the community. I want a career where I know I’m doing the right thing. I want to be able to impact people and make the world a better place,” Daniel says.