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Looking Towards a Brighter Future [Stanley Zheng '12]

“So many of the kids are forced to grow up way before they’re ready… I want to help them hold onto their last bit of childhood.”

It’s really just a vicious cycle and one that Stanley Zheng ’12 is all too familiar with. Immigrant families move from China to the U.S. possessing a “limited skill set” and face hostility from the unwelcoming society around them. These families, often unable to fully understand English and rarely given opportunities to ascend the social ladder, are forced to set up restaurants to support themselves with the only skills they do have. Living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Boston with an average income of just over $14,000 per household, the parents expect children to work in the restaurant too, launching a snowball effect of restaurant workers for generations. Stanley, however, through his work with PBHA’s Chinatown Afterschool Program, hopes to show these kids that they can succeed and break out of the seemingly endless cycle.

As director of the Chinatown Afterschool Program, Stanley works with many volunteers and approximately 60 elementary-school children from immigrant families of Boston’s Chinatown to mentor, teach, and treat them to a fun, meaningful time. Volunteers help devise an engaging curriculum that focuses on a variety of skills every week such as cooking, history, personal enrichment, literacy, and science to get the children excited for school and hopeful for their future. Stanley, coming from an immigrant restaurant-working family, knows all about the plight of the children who work with their families 365 days per year, rain or shine, through the summer and winter months. He says that Chinatown Afterschool is a ‘close hit to home’ and wants to impress on the children that “there is hope… there is a lot to be excited about now and in the future.” Through curriculum building, activities such as ice skating field trips, Halloween tick-or-treat and fun and games, the program is making a “lasting impact” in the community. “For me, [Chinatown Afterschool] is the most rewarding experience I’ve had at Harvard… knowing that everything I do touches lives is an honor.”

Ultimately, Stanley envisions the students realizing that “people from modest backgrounds can come to Harvard and be contributing members of society.” Already he has had the opportunity to mentor a student through the scholarship and college application process, watching him reach his full potential and succeed in his endeavors. “Really, we’re just one big family…it’s just all about the kids.”

Post by Khin-Kyemon Aung ’14
Photo by Stanley Zheng ’12

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