Wai Lone (Jonathan) Ho remembers when he first decided to devote himself to community service. He was a transport and logistical officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, overseeing the deployment of military vehicles across the island city-state. As an officer, he coordinated the duties of servicemen, and these interactions led Ho to a realization.
“I realized that many of them were from disadvantaged backgrounds and they didn’t really get as much resources as I did growing up,” said Ho. “I saw the disparity and felt that I should be doing something.”
Following his service, Ho enrolled at the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. All the while, he kept his eyes peeled for opportunities to help the community.
“That’s what drew me towards volunteering at the Knights Landing One Health Center,” said Ho, who started volunteering at the center during his freshmen year.
The Knights Landing One Health Center provides healthcare services to the rural farming community of Knights Landing, Calif. There, Ho found a passion project: creating a community garden for the area’s underserved population.
“We thought that creating a community space where there was a garden, where people could come and relax, walk around, look at flowers, but also…plant anything that they want: flowers, fruits, vegetables, that that would be really amazing,” said Ho.
After searching widely for possible sources of funding, Ho found the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship, which provides students with $15,000 to carry out a community service project. Ho and his team received the scholarship in 2019.
Since then, over $50,000 has been raised for the community garden project, with additional funds coming from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.
“Fundraising has been like a team project,” said Ho, who highlighted the efforts of Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies Natalia Deeb-Sossa, Ph.D. student Jacklyn Kelty and leaders from the Knights Landing Community United Methodist Church and Empower Yolo, a nonprofit that aims to promote safe, healthy and resilient communities.
Ho and his team also started a monthly cooking nutritional workshop for Knights Landing residents.
Ho credited a lot of this success to the teams he’s worked with over the past three years at the Knights Landing One Health Center. He’s continuously inspired by the selflessness of the student volunteers and health professionals, many of whom dedicate much of their time to improving the lives of others. “It’s just really amazing to me how all these organizations and volunteers are so willing to provide resources for free without asking for anything in return,” he said.
On October 26, the community garden team held their first Garden Workday.
This “involved over 30 volunteers from the community and the AmeriCorps, where we managed to fill up garden beds with soil, create an outdoor library and paint a new mural,” said Ho.
The garden space also played host to the Knights Landing One Health Festival in November. The festival connected community members to social resource organizations like CommuniCare and CalFresh.
While 2019 was fruitful, 2020 is looking to be an even bigger banner year for the community garden project. Ho and his colleagues will work with Yolo County to fully establish the garden and begin conducting community activities.
“One of my goals is to really inspire other students to take the initiative to do community service and step out of their comfort zones,” said Ho.