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Tzu Chi Northern California Chapter Introduction

What special traits does the Tzu Chi Northern California Chapter possess? Without thinking, anyone can provide a long list. For example: it is located at the center of high-technology in Silicon Valley, it has many members with technological talents, many member who are well educated, many members who are young, and many male members. However, there is only one truly unique distinction, and it is one that everyone points out unanimously: "The Northern California office has Grandma!"

To recount the history of Tzu Chi Northern California in detail, the discussion must begin with Grandma.

1. Everyone's Grandma

In 1984, seventy-year-old Mrs. Hsiu-Chin Lin-Wang of San Jose returned to home to visit relatives. Through some unforeseen conditions, she became acquainted with the Tzu Chi organization. At the request of Dharma Master Cheng Yen, she took on the endeavor to promote Tzu Chi Missions in America.

Originally, the effort included only fundraising for the Tzu Chi hospital and for helping out the impoverished. These tasks were not difficult for Mrs. Lin-Wang, because Buddhism was her faith; so performing charity was a routine pastime for her. She had already been visiting foster homes and nursing homes, as well as going to Buddhist temples to help raise funds. To observe and support Tzu Chi principles and to become a Tzu Chi volunteer were natural things for Mrs Lin-Wang to do.

At that time, Tzu Chi's "blessed pastures" of the Sunshine State were still rough and barren. There was only the husband and wife team of Hsi-Yuan Huang and Jing-Nien Lee in Sacramento, considered the first Tzu Chi volunteers in the United States. After getting in touch with them, Mrs. Lin-Wang went on to become friends with Tzu-Shi and Tzu-Hsuang in Southern California. They often interacted to exchange experience and ideas; they were united by their delight in building Tzu Chi of America. In 1990, a Tzu Chi Chapter was officially established in Southern California. It was then that Mrs. Lin-Wang returned to San Jose, where she earnestly continued the work of cultivating these barren pastures.

This petite and friendly old lady always carried a warm smile. She was an exceptionally diligent pioneer. She did not know how to drive, and spoke very little English. Even her eyesight was failing-yet Mrs. Lin-Wang achieved through compassion, endurance, and resolve. Starting with the people around her, she sowed the seeds of kindness one by one, never tiring physically or mentally. Finally, she cultivated a pasture of blessings for all to share. The love contributed by everyone gradually accumulated and surged. The volunteers exercised the great strengths of a thousand arms and a thousand eyes, as they multiplied the kindness and goodness in the world.

Hsiu-Chin Lin-Wang, also known as Sister Tzu-Fung, took countless volunteers under her guidance, and they became like her own family members. Continuing to address Mrs. Lin-Wang as sister seemed improper, so she began calling the elder "Grandma" instead. From then on, Tzu Chi Northern California was bestowed with this "Everyone's Grandma".

2. "Home" and "Family"

In 1992, the ten or so founding members split the cost and rented an office suite on Oakland Road that became the "Tzu Chi San Jose Contact Office". It was the precursor to the current "Tzu Chi Northern California Chapter". Prior to 1992, all the affairs of the group were conducted out of Grandma's home. Consequently, the notion "the office feels like home" was developed, and this special heartwarming feeling continues to this day.

Following the rising membership, the organization and division of work had to be systematized. Current executive officer, Michael Chern (Tzu Cheng) states: "In Tzu Chi, there are no differences in rank. There are only differences in assignments. When we speak of "officer", it implies the handling of responsibilities, which is an opportunity for maturing one's wisdom in life. Each of us is not inherently perfect, yet intends to lead others. Rather, we should try to reduce our ego, to earnestly learn, and to vigorously take on responsibilities. Also, we must be enthusiastic in cooperating with others." Former executive officer, Austin Tsao, who is the current Executive Officer for Tzu Chi USA, adds: "What is known as administrative management, in Tzu Chi, implies giving everyone the extra space to excel. This is unlike typical enterprises. Tzu Chi Northern California is full of talent. With an environment such as Tzu Chi, which allows for cultivating blessings as well as wisdom, it is the ideal place for nurturing the knowledge regarding human interaction and conduct. Also, this environment can enhance our Tzu Chi spirit of united will, harmony, mutual care, and cooperation."

In 1998, the Thousand People Thousand Dollars Donation Trust raised enough money for the purchase of the current office in Milpitas. In the four years since, the building space has already become insufficient for current usage needs. There are plans for expansion. With more than a decade of experience, volunteers adhere to the principle of "Acquiring resources from the local community and applying the resources back into the local community". Tzu Chi will advance to the next stage in Northern California as the new office building completes construction.

3. Thousands of Arms, Thousands of Eyes -- The Tzu Chi Volunteers

Since the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and the Monterey Flooding in 1991, Grandma and the rest of the volunteers have personally visited disaster sites and followed up with well-organized implementations of disaster relief. They abided by the instructions from the Venerable Master, who called for "expedience, focus, directness, and respect" in helping others. They also sought the cooperation of the City Team Ministries to maximize their efforts.

Visits to convalescent homes and senior centers are part of a program of nonstop commitment. Through visits and service, the volunteers gain profound understandings into the pains of poverty and disease. With love and care, suffering can be alleviated and gratitude can be nurtured. As a result, goodwill touches even more people.

Apart from helping the poor and providing disaster relief, Tzu Chi has extended its care to education and culture. Volunteers have devoted time helping the homeless and teenage dropouts at halfway homes by teaching job skills and guiding them to regaining their appreciation for life.

Tzu Chi Northern California also carries on continued cooperation with other charity groups, so that shared manpower and talent can be fully utilized. These organizations that interact with Tzu Chi include The American Cancer Society Northern California Chapter, The Chinese American Friends of Special Children, and Catholic Charities. Tzu Chi will always open its arms to any charity.

Volunteers are symbols of the brilliance in human character. They do not seek fame or fortune, nor do they yearn for applause. As long as they see one perplexed individual becoming enlightened, one suffering soul feeling joy instead of pain, or one seed of kindness beginning to sprout, their minds will feel thorough elation and satisfaction.

Executive Officer Austin Tsao noted that his earliest rank in Tzu Chi was simply "volunteer". Later, he became the "assistant director of the news and information group". Gradually, the number of words in his title diminished: "Director of Volunteers Team", "Executive Secretary", and now he is "Executive Officer" of Tzu Chi USA. At the same time, he has gone around full circle, for he still considers himself to be a "volunteer" and takes pride for being able to help.

4. Current Status

Traveling with pioneering footsteps on this Tzu Chi pathway, which originated from that Tzu Chi San Jose Contact Office located at Grandma's home, the volunteers continue to support each other with an united resolve. Sharing a deep and sincere friendship, they laid down the solid foundation for "Tzu Chi Northern California Office". After establishing a formal site for the office, the quantity and quality of the volunteers saw a significant increase. At the same time, the organization's collection of books on Tzu Chi's Still Thoughts culture grew substantially. Through the flow and exchange of these pieces of literature, Northern California volunteers were able to promote Tzu Chi's ideal of Great Love to an even wider audience. In so doing, they grew closer to the spiritual home of Tzu Chi people.

In 1999, the world's attention turned to the severe earthquake. It was a disaster that saw Silicon Valley volunteers fully exercising the pure kindness within their human nature, as everyone rushed to donate funds for the relief effort. There were engineers and architects who returned to home in hope of helping out with the reconstruction. A "Banquet of Compassion" was held in 2000 to raise money for rebuilding schools. It was an event in which Silicon Valley volunteers gave a heartwarming response to a world filled with heart-chilling disasters.

In conducting a major scale activity like "One person one charity, forever part from calamity", as part of the "Showering Love Upon Humanity" campaign, Tzu Chi volunteers demonstrated that they are always marching to the frontline and helping out to the very end. Apart from materials that educated the public on cherishing resources and life, the fair grounds were also filled with real demonstrations of earth-loving environmental preservation. Even the setting had an appearance of total cleanliness.

A few years ago, from the Still Thoughts Abode in Hualien, Master Hsuang, Master Min, Master Chen and Venerable Master's mother toured the United States. They brought with them some well-wishes from the Venerable Master, who said:

Through faith and resolve, we grow our cultivating mind
Through acceptance of circumstances, we connect with everyone around us

Through earnest and substantial actions, we put our lives to good use
Through tolerance and humility, we nurture our character

We attain joy with selfless contributions.
We build up ourselves with the plain and the mundane.

These are words of blessing from the Venerable Master. They are also indications of the Master's high hopes for us.


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