It has been said that to serve others is a great calling and it’s something one cannot simply ignore. The pull to help others and imprint on making a difference is stronger than one’s own desire to attain something just for themselves. For others, this calling comes later in life, but to the very unique few, this calling happens much earlier.

Roxanne Volkmann happens to be one of those few who was called to serve others when she was just a young 19-year-old.

Photo courtesy of Roxanne Volkmann website

Early Community Involvement

Being a Filipino-American, Roxanne’s urge in helping the community started when a great earthquake struck her hometown in Baguio, Philippines in 1990. Having just freshly moved to the United States and still a 19-year old college student, Roxanne felt the need to help her fellow Baguio residents to get through the crisis. Volunteering her time and effort, she rallied fellow Fil-Ams and organized a disaster relief drive and got in touch with various government officials (both local and in the Philippines) and other third-party agencies in order to help deliver resources, medical supplies, and donated goods to the residents of Baguio. With this level of community involvement, she met individuals who had the same drive, intentions, and passion for social change as her who eventually became her mentors later on. This experience became a pivotal moment for Roxanne as she saw the fruits of her compassion. Immediately right then and there, she knew she wanted to help and serve others, seeing that with a kind and honorable intention could result in a strong and lasting outcome that inspires others to evoke change within their own respective communities.

From this point, Roxanne engaged in various community building and outreach activities that led her to become an expert in the field of housing, urban development, labor standards, and most especially, fair wages and worker’s rights. She notes that worker’s rights has a special place in her heart as she holds a lot of compassion for the average worker. “I make sure that no workers are underpaid. People take advantage of workers especially when they don’t speak much English, especially when they’re immigrants, especially when they are incredibly low-income. My team and I make sure that those workers are always paid properly,” she says with conviction.

The passion to lobby for worker’s rights came from the time when the community was facing numerous issues, one of which was old Immigrant World War 2 Veterans. Roxanne had to represent these veterans that came to the United States, served the country during the war and aged within the US but haven’t yet achieved their deserved benefits. “These veterans wanted to make sure that the benefits promised to them for their children, and their children’s children were kept,” she shares. It’s through these involvements that she realized that she could serve not just the local Chicago community, but also the whole AAPI community in the US and those residing abroad.

With her numerous expertise in various community issues, it is no wonder that Roxanne makes for an excellent resource person. Aside from all these involvement with community work, early on Roxanne gained experience by being mentored by various AAPI leaders in government. A valuable opportunity that allowed her to gain confidence when it comes to navigating heavy community issues and problems. Afterwhich, she applied and got into the 2-year Community Builder Fellowship which then allowed her to study under The Kennedy School of Government under Harvard University. There she learned and simultaneously applied various solutions, techniques, and new ways on how to better help others. With the level of her on-the-ground exposure, Roxanne was able to share her knowledge with her peers about community building. She notes that by adding a touch of compassion to every action that is taken, it goes a really long way when it comes to helping everyone, may it be on the local or national scene. Through the years of her service towards the community, she shares that she believes in the value of Meritocracy wherein efficiency could be achieved smoothly when leadership positions are selected on the basis of a person's skills and abilities.

Leadership Roles and Perception

When asked about how serving the community affected her view on leadership, Roxanne quickly responds in a strong manner saying “We need to have more Asian American leaders in Government”. Further adding that “If we have more Asian American leaders in government, that’s how we’re going to really start making changes and helping our community,” she says. Valuing inclusivity, she wants to see more proactive solutions and ways to get to know, celebrate, honor, protect, and serve the Asian American community in Chicago in such a way that these proactive efforts will inspire others to do the same. “I went out to student groups that were Asian Americans throughout our local universities, and I brought a contingency of government workers that were either Asian themselves or they serve the Asian community because I wanted students to know, they had choices I never knew I had,” she shares. Roxanne continues that at that event, she wanted students to know the value of being in government office, that by serving in the government, they would have a voice that could spark change and be of help to their respective communities. 

Oftentimes in today’s society, we forget that leaders should not only focus on answering and solving the issues at hand but also inspiring the next generation to step up to the plate. “My perception of Leadership, it’s [not just] doing the right thing and being on top of all the issues but it’s also pulling up other young leaders to be a part of the ways we can really make a big difference, so that to me is leadership, bringing more and more people up, she says. 

Priority on Public Safety 

After having meaningful conversations with local residents through her door-to-door drive, making the streets safer has been the residents’ common plea. Given the current landscape with hate crimes happening left and right, it is no wonder that public safety is on top of the priority list of Roxanne. She quickly realized that so many people have been affected by the fear brought about by these hate crimes that even local businesses have been affected. The fear of being pushed out from the community has been prevalent which is why Roxanne aspires to work together with law enforcement to make it more inclusive in order to encourage more Asian Americans to join. “I want to work with our officers. I’d love to see more officers from the Asian American community… I think that change to make a better police department only happens when you include more and more people from the community whether it’s Asian American, whether it's LGBTQIA+, whatever it is, you get more officers from the community, now you’re starting to build a better police force that is respectful of the community,” she imparts. After her son's first hand experience with hate crime, Roxanne couldn’t fathom how close to home this issue really is and that it needs to be addressed with immediate concern. “I don’t want to have that as normal for us cause now it almost feels like it’s normal,” she says referring to the hate crimes and their frequent occurrence. Public safety should immediately be addressed but for Roxanne, this is just a small portion of the big problem. In the long run, she hopes to address issues relating to Job Opportunities and Education. “If you’re talking about public safety, well there’s a reason that people are robbing, threatening others, and/or have so much hate. Maybe in the long run, we need to talk about education. We need to talk about job opportunities. We need to talk about all of those things to discourage all these problems but right now, we need to hold the people accountable for the actions that they take.” 

Identity Beyond the Community Work

When not otherwise engaged in community related activities, Roxanne proudly shares her motherly duties. “I’m a mom!” she exclaims happily. She then proceeds to share the accomplishments of her son but she distinguishes herself to be a more creative mother. Roxanne discloses that if it wasn’t for community service, she would’ve chosen a life in the arts. Having grown up with a father who was a builder and a mother who made wedding gowns, Roxanne was given a very hands-on exposure to creating and making her own things. Despite her love for the arts, her parents persuaded her to go in a different direction. Acknowledging that this current generation has more opportunities, she says that we can now showcase to older generations what we could be as a society if we are given the chance to explore our options and not just go with something of the norm. She happily shares that she could definitely see herself pursuing the arts when she’s close to retiring. 

Despite her desire to pursue being an artist, Roxanne felt the call of community work and the fulfillment it brings when she is able to accomplish it. She discloses that if she had invisibility for superpowers it would help her identify the true causes of their day-to-day problems as individuals who need to be held accountable for their actions. Apart from her desire to have superpowers of her own, Roxanne has been an example that just by showing any form of compassion and true intention to make a difference to society, one can already consider themselves an everyday hero.

Feb 10, 2023

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