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Reflections of a Natural Born Volunteer

Catherine Nguyen '20

Catherine Nguyen '20 first fell in love with volunteering as a middle schooler, when she accompanied her mother who regularly volunteered at Sacred Heart Community Services. She continued to volunteer weekly throughout all four years of high school with Kaiser Patient Services, where she regularly conversed with patients in Vietnamese.

“The way their eyes lit up when they realized someone could understand them is something I can never forget,” says Catherine.

Upon starting at Santa Clara University, Catherine soon discovered the Ignatian Center’s Thriving Neighbors, and applied for the fellowship. 

“It sounded like a wonderful program to partake in, which proved to be a huge understatement,” states Catherine.


“I was absolutely ecstatic when I was accepted as a fellow and assigned to work at the CET Sobrato Vocational Training Center.”

During her time at Sobrato Vocational Training Center, Catherine aided in organizing two career fairs and worked with students for ten hours every week, helping them put together their resumes and cover letters and prepare for interviews.

“I saw students who were much older than me,” Catherine explains, “students who struggled with English, students who wanted to provide a better life for their family, students who possessed similar heritage and background stories as my mother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, and many more of my relatives — students who reminded me so much of my parents.”

Catherine's parents used to visit similar non-profit organizations and hospitals when they were younger. Having each immigrated to the US with their respective families as war refugees, they did not understand English and were forced to start their lives over from scratch when they were uprooted from their homes in Vietnam. They heavily struggled with the language barrier as they attended school in America in addition to working several jobs on the side to help their families.

“My parents have fought through so many obstacles and adversaries throughout their entire lives, working tirelessly to give my sister and me a bright future,” she says.

Although Catherine recognizes that she will never completely understand the depth of her parents’ immigrant experiences, she does credit her fellowship with providing a better understanding of what they went through. 

 “While I will never be able to fully know the countless hardships they endured, by working at CET through the fellowship, I was offered a glimpse of what they had gone through, and that is something I will hold onto for the rest of my life. It was an unforgettable, eye opening experience, and I am forever grateful to the Ignatian Center for providing me with this invaluable opportunity.”

Catherine graduated in June 2020 with a degree in Accounting and Information Systems and a minor in Studio Art. She interned during the summer after her junior year with KPMG and has been working there as an IT Advisory Associate since August 2020. Fortunately for her, the firm offers many volunteering opportunities, including a children’s literacy program and a coastal clean up program in which she has participated. Catherine hopes to partake in more volunteer opportunities once in-person work continues.