Established in 2004, China Care at Brown “proudly provides a platform for connecting youth in the local Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts area with student mentors at Brown” and the Rhode Island School of Design, according to the organization’s website.
A chapter of the national China Care Foundation, which aims to serve Chinese adoptees in the United States, China Care at Brown hosts fundraisers, offers language and cultural lessons and connects community members with Brown students through monthly mentorship sessions.
According to Selina Liu ’24, a lessons coordinator for the club, the group is “dedicated to helping Chinese immigrant families and specifically their children learn more about Chinese culture and language.”
The Herald spoke with several members of China Care at Brown to learn more about the organization’s history and where it’s headed next.
‘Shared culture and heritage’: The history of China Care at Brown
When Brown’s China Care chapter was first established, it was primarily dedicated to “serving families with Chinese adoptees,” said Chapter Co-president Mayayi Izzo ’24.
But when international adoptions from China decreased following the easing of the country’s one-child policy, the chapter’s mission began to shift, said former chapter president, Lily Gucfa. “We decided to open up China Care to anyone of Chinese descent or diaspora because that’s really what China Care is about,” she explained. “It’s about celebrating your culture in a really positive environment with a mentor.”
While the group struggled with its membership during the COVID-19 pandemic, “families were eager to keep it going because it meant so much to their children,” Gucfa said. The chapter adapted and found ways to shift its programming to online venues.
Gucfa, who was a mentee in China Care at Brown between the ages of four and eleven, said that taking a mentorship role in the organization has been “full circle and very rewarding.”
“During my time there, I had about three different mentors. … Each relationship was very fulfilling,” she added. “Not only was it a relationship to be had between me and the mentor but also my family and the mentor.”
Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and attending an all-girls Catholic school during her adolescence, Gucfa found that “China Care was the only place that I knew that actually had people who reflected myself or had similar experiences as me.”
“I felt much less alone,” she said. “That was a place I felt was very safe as a Chinese adoptee.”
Izzo, who also participated in China Care at Brown as a mentee, remembers being “really excited” about the idea of being able to give back to the program by joining as a mentor.
“There weren’t many Chinese adoptees or Chinese children where I grew up,” Izzo said. “It was a very cool experience when we would come to campus and see other children who had similar stories.”
According to Gucfa, many mentors in the club today may have previous connections with the organization. “A lot of these mentors might have gone to a China Care in their own region, or had similar experiences growing up feeling foreign or out of place,” she explained.
‘Role models and a support system’: China Care today
Today, Brown’s China Care chapter aims to connect Brown and RISD students “with local Chinese American kids who wish to find role model figures or older sibling figures who show them there’s a lot of pride to be had in one’s heritage and background,” Gucfa said.
Across monthly workshops, mentor-and-mentee pairings “work together on arts and crafts activities and games that are centered around Chinese heritage and culture,” Izzo said.
According to mentorship coordinator Jenny Wang ’24, each mentorship session tailors its lessons around a specific theme aligned with relevant cultural events going on at the time. Past themes have included cities in China and different cultural holidays, and the club’s next session will relate to the mid-autumn festival, Liu said.
“We try to provide them with the whole experience where they have the opportunity to not only learn about the festival but also experience things that are traditionally done during that festival,” Wang added.
Liu also emphasized the strength of learning about one’s cultural heritage, noting that her friends with Chinese familial backgrounds have become “more grounded” by getting “closer to their original culture” through the chapter’s services.
In addition to their work with families and mentees, the club often fundraises for efforts such as helping train caretakers in orphanages in China and Taiwan, Gucfa said.
‘Enthusiasm for our mission’: The future of China Care at Brown
Going forward, Izzo said China Care at Brown wants to shift its focus to recruiting new mentors, tutors and general body members in an effort to reach more families.
“You don’t have to be Chinese to be a mentor,” Gucfa clarified. “We’ve had mentors in the past who are just really excited to celebrate what they know and to learn more about Chinese culture and to be sort of a mediator or facilitator for that for the kids.”
“Having enthusiasm for our mission is all it takes to be a mentor and a commitment to growing a connection with your mentee,” Gucfa added.
According to Gucfa, families mostly hear about the organization “through word of mouth,” but the organization has recently established “a contact in the Barrington public school system” that points families in the direction of China Care.
Izzo encouraged prospective members to reach out to her if interested and said that having more mentors would mean the group could increase the frequency of their mentorship sessions. “We always encourage people who have basic Chinese speaking skills and a basic understanding of Chinese culture to join” as tutors, she added.
Wang added that mentors learn a lot from the program as well. “During session planning, I also get to learn more about Chinese culture and the traditions,” she said. “Mentors themselves become really great friends with each other.”
In addition to recruiting more members, Wang said the group hopes to “collaborate more with organizations at Brown.” Past collaborations with other University groups have included partnerships with Chinese dance groups, which offer an invaluable experience for mentees, Wang added.
Clarification: A previous version of this story included a quote that implied that conversational Mandarin was required for prospective members, when it is only required for tutors.
Indigo Mudbhary is a University news senior staff writer covering student government. In her free time, she enjoys running around Providence and finding new routes.