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Cindy Thao '15 Shares Essay from the 16th Annual Circle of Women for May 15th Legacy Writer of the Year Nominee

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Cindy Thao '15 YWCA Speech

Nyob Zoo, kuv lub npe hu ua Cindy Thoj. Kuv zoo siab tau ntsib nej sawvdaws.
Hello, my name is Cindy Thao. I am very happy and pleased to be here and meet all of you.
The language I just spoke is Hmong. My culture is Hmong.

I am 15 years old. I go to Patrick Henry High School. I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers. I am the second oldest in my family.

As the oldest daughter I have the responsibility of taking care of my younger siblings. I love animals and I dream to be a zoologist someday. I also love going shopping and love helping my dad fix the family cars.

After school on Monday through Thursday, I ride the bus from my high school to Hmong International Academy so I can volunteer at the YWCA Beacons Center in North Minneapolis. I volunteer there from 3:30pm to 5:30pm. I help out program staff with a lot of things - I do office work, I help with preparing the afterschool busing, I enter attendance for about 250 afterschool kids, and help the Beacons Leadership Team with their projects and work.

When I was younger, I wasn’t very interested in education until 6th grade, when I joined the Beacons Afterschool Program. At first, I felt really scared and different. I was shy and did not talk much. I was not into the activities, I usually just sit down quietly and watch everyone else.

Until one day Mr. Tong and the Beacons staff taught me how to play football. Learning how to play and them actually taking the time to teach me made me feel very important and that I MATTER. Also, I wasn’t good at a lot of things in the Beacons program but I remembered what Mr. Kinley, a Program Coordinator said to me, “Never give up on something because you will never learn anything.”

I began to talk more and feel more confident. Then I met a girl named Nancy. She was a very quiet person and didn’t talk much. Until one day she came up to me and said, “Cindy do you want to read this book with me?” I was surprised because she’s always so

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quiet and I never heard her talk before. Together we read “The Clay Marble” and it was fun reading together. Nancy is a great reader too. Now, Nancy is talking more than she used to and we became best friends. I feel so proud of her and am so happy that I found my best friend in Beacons.

I also remember learning about “Paj Ntaub” which is Hmong Flower Cloth cross stitching. Ms. Jessie was the Beacons Staff that was teaching it. When I first started I didn’t know how to sew and felt embarrassed for myself. On my Paj Ntaub I sewed a music note with the heart on the side and the word “music.”

When we were all finished Ms. Jessie took pictures of us with our Paj Ntaub and I was very proud that I learned how to sew. Ms. Jessie is a fun and great leader and she never made me feel embarrassed and always made me feel good and proud to be myself.

We also attended a “Career Day” for us at school. It’s where different people come in and talk to us about their jobs and lifestyle. And we got to go on College visits. We went to the University of Minnesota and I remembered talking to a woman who was a college student there. She told me about all the hard work she had gone through to be there and that she was very proud of herself. She gave me advice - she told me to join afterschool activities so I can be ready for College. She made me see and believe that I can be just like her in a big College as long as I worked really hard. I was really glad and happy with the college visit.

I come back to volunteer with Beacons is because I want to return a favor. Beacons and all the staff taught me so much and I learned to believe in myself, learned to not be afraid of speaking up, learned how to communicate with both young and older people, and believe that I can do anything I want to do and be.

It is my turn to pass it on. The YWCA really changed me to be a better person and I feel so proud of myself today. For that, I would like to show my thanks to the YWCA Beacons Program staff. Thank you!