OKEECHOBEE — Our Village Okeechobee invited the students of the Class of 2020 to participate in an essay contest if they were in the top ten, not academically but for community service hours. Our Village embodies community service and we felt it was important to recognize students who gave back to our community while attending high school.
Recipient Derrick Chen plans to attend the University of Florida to earn his bachelor’s degree in foreign languages. He would like to apply to join the FBI, possibly after serving in the armed forces as an interpreter. Derrick completed 370 volunteer hours over the course of his high school career.
His winning essay is below.
“In a rural town such as Okeechobee, community service is one of the hallmarks that unite, and make us such a tight-knit haven. Not only does community service work improve our hometown, it also gives the citizens of our community a form of structure and a sense of responsibility.
“When Hurricane Irma made landfall, I was under lockdown in the Emergency Operations Center of Okeechobee doing community service work. It was my responsibility as a multilingual citizen to interpret and translate in the call line center for those who could not speak English during those catastrophic times. After gaining experience in multiple foreign languages, I realized that volunteering in an emergency situation was a sacrifice I had to make to serve my community. I gave up my sense of security with my family at home to serve others and distribute vital information at 16 years old, and during the most formidable hurricane that I had ever lived through.
“Volunteering is not always about sacrificing in circumstances such as the aforementioned, but it is about giving a piece of yourself to the community, to support others and to selflessly do charity which betters the lives of others. In our hometown, we have a sense of community that is not found in larger cities, and a portion of that feeling comes from the fact that our humble town can come together and support each other when we are called to be selfless and contribute to the betterment of our home. When we take time to give back to those who are in need, we are charitably committing an act of love and compassion which brings us together and makes us much stronger — especially in light of recent events which have brought out the worst, but also the best, in our world.”