Dawn Lee started La Vida after seeing a lack of support structure for families going through rough times such as illness and financial hardships. The organisation lends itself to providing emotional, financial and social support for families that may feel overwhelmed by these challenges.
Dawn is not out to find a silver bullet that will solve all family problems. Instead, she focuses on a more grassroots solution — nurturing the family unit so that it can become stronger and more resilient.
In this interview, we asked Dawn more about her non-profit organisation and the importance of making a difference at the community level.
What was the inspiration for starting this community centre?
La Vida was initiated by a group of people who had gone through different types of challenges in their own personal and family lives such as mental health illnesses, cancer, or raising a special needs child.
Having gone through those tough times of physical, emotional, social pain, we realised there was a lack of awareness, information and support for families. That’s when we saw the need to do something to help ease the challenges that families faced.
How important is the role of the family unit in these tough situations?
It is said that strong families are the building blocks of strong communities, and strong communities are the building blocks of strong nations. As we build relationships, we can examine the big picture of society’s needs — what caused the situation and find the type of support needed and how to empower families.
Our desired outcome is a community where no one in need is left unsupported, and no one who is willing to give or help wonders whether they made a difference.
There’s a lot of volunteers at La Vida. How do you promote the benefits of volunteering and participation in community service?
Eighty per cent of our volunteers are youths, and over the years we have hundreds that have volunteered with us either in-house or through our community service projects. What matters is that the youths gain the ability to know that they can make a difference.
On the fun side, you get to share experiences with your friends, and in a meaningful way.
How did you face the challenges and what kept you going?
Running a non-profit is no doubt challenging but the opportunity to give back to the community is more important and rewarding. Over the past years, it has been wonderful for us to see the perspective and attitudes of young volunteers change during their service. They also learn more about respect and empathy and gain interaction skills that will help them in life.
What warms my heart the most is when I see the joy on the faces of the kids. When a special needs child finally can join a sports team. When a young patient finds fun in doing arts and crafts and forgets about the stress of facing an upcoming surgery. Or when an underprivileged student receives a new school bag. Those are memorable experiences to cherish.