Cameron House’s Children Become Its Leaders

Cameron House provides food baskets to needy families in Chinatown. This year, youth created spice blends to raise money for food to put in the baskets.

Among the thousands of service agencies and community nonprofits struggling to make it through these tough economic times, Donaldina Cameron House counts among its blessings the multi-generational extended family it has nurtured throughout its 136-year history.

From its founding, Cameron House has nurtured a cycle of giving that began with the Presbyterian Church and Donaldina Cameron and has come full circle with the members of this family giving back to the organization.

Two examples of this are Cameron House Board President Heidi Wong, an organizational planning consultant specializing in nonprofits, and Minami Tamaki senior counsel Mark Fong.

mfong1Mark, like many other Chinese American children in San Francisco in the 1970s, used to attend the Friday night Club program, starting in junior high school.

“Maybe a hundred kids would get together to play sports and hang out,” said Mark. “It was a great place to make friends and meet girls.”

“Along with the recreational and social activities, the advisors would give us things to do, such as work projects and helping to raise money or collect food for folks in the neighborhood. I realized later in life that they were teaching us about service to the community and we didn’t even realize it.”

Mark’s colleague on the board, Heidi Wong, was born to parents who were both alumni themselves. Heidi’s parents felt being part of the Cameron House community was important enough to her social, spiritual and leadership development that they commuted her into San Francisco Chinatown from Hayward, Calif., to participate in its programs.

“The person that I am today is because of the strong sense of community and the leadership opportunities that Cameron House provided me as a child,” said Heidi. “As it had for my parents’ generation and when I was a youth, Cameron House plays a critical role in equipping kids with what they need to survive as adults, including parenthood, and into the workforce.”

“The sense of community created by Cameron House is deeply rooted, enabling many of us to develop lifelong friendships and our own opportunities of giving back to the community. Numerous Cameron House alumni are in public or social service vocations, or are advocates for community members who are less fortunate or empowered. Participating in Cameron House programs at any level has always seemed to mean being there for other people.”

In high school, Mark became a volunteer leader in the summer daycamp program, and took dozens of kids from Chinatown each day to parks around the city on the bus.

“That gave me a lot of confidence as a young person and taught me I was capable of doing many things,” said Mark. “I was also sent to various churches for Volunteer in Mission programs to lead daycamps, teach bible school or do work projects. It taught me to be adaptable and learn to think on my feet.”

Because of their long history with – and now fiduciary leadership of – Cameron House, both Heidi and Mark see and feel deeply the daunting challenges facing the organization.

“It is amazing that the work of Cameron House continues to be as vital to the life of the community as it is,” shared Mark. “Its success is due in part to the ability to adapt to the needs of the times, but also in how the organization has instilled the values of community service into generations of Chinese American youth who have gone on to become the heads of other social service agencies, ministers, social workers, doctors, lawyers and judges – many who are now leaders in our community.”

“This work continues today, and continues with my family. My son attends the Friday Club program, was a daycamp leader for three summers in high school and went to New Orleans twice with other youth to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.”

Like many other alumni, Mark has also involved his office in supporting Cameron House.

“Cutbacks by the city government, which is a major source of funding, severely hampers the ability of Cameron House to deliver services,” Mark points out. “Plus it puts the organization in competition with other worthwhile agencies for funding, which is very bad for our community.”

“Minami Tamaki sees our assistance to Cameron House as an investment in our kids, which is an investment in our future. We need to teach our children that it’s not all about ‘me,’ but ‘we.’ ”

The law firm’s support reflects its own roots as a minority-owned firm, committed to the improvement of society by working with integrity for justice, equality and community every day.

The values of community and advocacy learned at Cameron House fuel Mark’s passion for the law to this day. With more than 28 years of legal experience, Mark continues to represent people who have been hurt or otherwise injured by holding insurance companies and individuals accountable for their negligent and intentional acts.

“Minami Tamaki’s support of Cameron House has been a true blessing,” said Heidi. “We are so appreciative for not only their monetary contributions, but more importantly their in-kind and moral support which validate our continued work in the community. Having Minami Tamaki ‘in our corner’ and Mark on our board to offer legal perspectives and expertise have helped us navigate a number of issues over the years.”

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