Nancy Lu Ren, a senior at Benjamin Franklin High School, is a New Orleans native who lived in China for five years before starting school and embraces both her Asian and New Orleanian heritages.
During the summer of 2013, Ren volunteered in Taiwan at a boys’ home for delinquents and orphans. She went to Taiwan with the mindset that she was going to help the boys and better their lives – but instead they taught her how to navigate around language and cultural barriers.
“In Taiwan I was in charge of music, and I would make music with the very multi-talented boy, which became a medium for us to connect,” she says. “Over the course of two weeks, I saw with my own eyes how language isn’t necessary to have a connection with others and how the littlest things – like singing together or playing a game – can make an impact in a person’s life.”
Even through the language barriers she was able to help other Americans in her group connect with the boys, though most didn’t know any Chinese. The trip taught her how to see not differences but similarities among the boys.
“To this day I’m still fascinated to see how attached we had all grown to each other within a matter of a few weeks and how the lesson of transcending cultural differences has carried over to my community here in New Orleans,” she says.
Ren is involved with the Asian/Pacific American Society and the New Orleans Chinese Baptist Church, and these organizations allow her to embrace her culture, her community and her heritage, she says.
Kim Lawler, a youth leader at Ren’s church, has been an inspiration to her, reaching out to the Chinese immigrant community in New Orleans. Lawler spearheaded the movement to help the immigrant children of New Orleans. Through Lawler, Ren learned how to connect with others; Ren says she’s the epitome of giving back to the community, and Ren aspires to be like Lawler when she grows up.
“I think it is important to give back to the community that has nurtured me in my younger years,” she says, “and volunteering in that community is how I show my appreciation. I believe that through acts of service we can all work to better our communities and make it more enjoyable for everyone”
Ren is also involved in is involved in Generation to Generations, a club dedicated to celebrating and connecting with the elderly. Music is a big part of her life. In the future, she’s considering studying medicine to become a pediatrician, while still working in the community to forge connections among the people.