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Letter from Becca Richardson

Rebecca Richardson is currently a junior at Stanford University majoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE). The CSRE is an interdisciplinary major that allows her to combine courses from several different departments and craft her own area of concentration. For the past two years she has been volunteering on a weekly basis at East Palo Alto Charter School, where she tutors and mentors two 6th grade students. In her spare time, Rebecca sings and enjoys bringing people together through music and the arts.

I want to begin by thanking the Shinnyo-en Foundation for such a meaningful and influential fellowship experience. I could never have expected how much I would learn this summer on both a professional and personal level. The many unique experiences I’ve had through working with the Shinnyo-en Foundation have pushed me to question the reasons why individuals chose to do service work and how I will incorporate service into my future career aspirations.

One of the greatest highlights of my fellowship experience was traveling to Japan with the Peace through Service trip. I have never had the opportunity to travel to Asia, and so traveling to Japan was an eye-opening cultural experience. I loved trying all of the new foods, taking the different forms of public transportation, and visiting various historically significant sites. I also made so many great relationships with the other Shinnyo fellows and Blake School participants. It was so great to meet people from all around the country who are interested in similar topics as me. I am hoping that these bonds will last far beyond my time as a Shinnyo fellow.

While our journey to Japan was an enriching cultural experience, it was a personally transformative experience as well. I have always been proud of my Japanese heritage, but having never known my Japanese grandmother I haven’t had the opportunity to explore that side of my ancestry. Previous to my time as a fellow I was never a particularly spiritual person, but there were many moments while I was in Japan when I felt my grandmother’s presence around me. I truly believe that she somehow helped me find my way to the Shinnyo-en Foundation and receive the incredible chance to visit Japan. Being able to visit the country that is one of my homelands was a truly special opportunity, granting me a greater understanding of who I am and where I come from.

Another great aspect of working with the foundation this summer has been learning about the workings of philanthropy organizations. Before working at the foundation, I really had no idea how the grant process worked. While foundations help fund so many important functions in our country, the ways in which foundations are managed has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Being able to work with my supervisor, Abby Nathanson, and examine grant proposals and recommendations I gained a far better understanding of the grant process. Under the direction of Abby, I had the opportunity to work on a project in which I examined grant recommendations and interim reports submitted by various grantees of the foundation. I was invited to offer my analysis of the documents, target discrepancies, and suggest points of inquiry for the grantee organizations. This process helped me think critically about how the foundations mission can be actualized through the work of various non-profit groups. At the annual Shinnyo-en Foundation retreat at the Marconi Conference center in Marshall, California I was able to meet many of the foundation grantees and hear first hand what service projects they are currently working on. Meeting these individuals gave me the ability to put a face to the organizations I had spent many hours researching. It was interesting to see how the foundation supports so many diverse projects taking place around the country.

I have always been very drawn to do service work in my life, but I have never really stopped to think why this type of work is attractive to me. Through learning and sharing the Sixth Billion Paths to Peace initiative I have been able to reflect on the ways in which I can be a peacemaker through serving others in this world. I used to have a hard time understanding how the small acts of service I engage in can actually make a difference in the world. But now I see that even the smallest acts of service create more peace in the world.

As my summer fellowship at the foundation ends, I view this as only the beginning of my relationship with the Shinnyo-en Foundation. I am hoping that when I return to Stanford I will be able to share the Sixth Billion Paths to Peace initiative with people in my community, especially with the 6th graders I tutor at East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS). This year I will be a coordinator for Closing the Gap, a tutoring program that partners Stanford students with students at EPACS facilitate learning and relationship building. I have been part of this organization for a few years but I am now acting in a leadership position this coming year. I am excited to incorporate service learning into the heart of our program to encourage kids to begin thoughtfully engaging in service activities in their community.

I cannot express how transformative this summer has been for me. I’ve received such a diversity of experiences working with the Shinnyo-en Foundation and I have grown so much over the past 9 weeks. I have made meaningful relationships with so many wonderful individuals who have greatly influenced me to use my talents to make the world a better place. I am so grateful to be part of the Shinnyo-en Foundation family, and hope that this relationship will deepen in the years to come.

My sincerest appreciation and thanks,

Rebecca Richardson

Shinnyo Summer Fellow

Stanford University