Originally published on The Lawrence by Avigna Ramachandran
Students and faculty members attended a Residential Life Meeting prior to the annual Martin Luther King Day of Service from 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM in the Kirby Arts Center this past Tuesday. Student Council Community Service Representative Dev Chhokra ’19, Hunter Korn ’19, and Natalie Carr ’19 delivered speeches on their experiences with community service, followed by keynote speaker Natalie Tung ’14.
During her time at Lawrenceville, Tung was vice president of academics on Student Council, captain of the Girls Varsity Squash team, and Kirby House president. At Princeton University, Tung co-founded HomeWorks Trenton, a non-profit organization that provides underprivileged middle and high school girls the opportunity to attend an after-school boarding program. In honor of her work, Tung received the McKinsey & Company Undergraduate Women's Impact Award and A. James Fisher, Jr. Memorial Prize at Princeton.
In her speech, Tung described how her interactions with faculty members and students as well as community service involvement at Lawrenceville ultimately inspired her to create HomeWorks. She was accompanied by four girls who shared their own experiences with the program. Two of these girls were inspired by Tung’s work and decided to create their own nonprofit SmartVision Kids to provide glasses for kids from low-income families.
Avigna Ramachandran ’21 of The Lawrence had the opportunity to speak with Tung.
Avigna Ramachandran: What inspired you to create HomeWorks?
Natalie Tung: I would say the biggest thing [that inspired me] was being here at Lawrenceville and in the Kirby House. The girls that I lived with were the most inspiring and amazing people who completely changed me as a person and gave me a lot of different perspectives. They’ve always been there for me and have seen me at my best and worst. I really wanted to create that kind of feel and experience for people that might not have access to [a place] like Lawrenceville.
AR: What projects have you been working on to facilitate the growth of HomeWorks?
NT: Initially, we were mostly working on [...] going into the community and learning what [its] needs were. I focused on how to start a nonprofit and lead a team, and then, came the fundraising, running the program, and meeting with different organizers and nonprofit leaders to figure out what programs we could leverage to facilitate ours.
AR: How do you plan to expand HomeWorks in the future?
NT: If I could have anything in the world, I would have 40 girls in one HomeWorks house, and it would be for four years of high school.
I’d eventually want to have chapters of HomeWorks around the world. That’s the dream, but I plan to get there by first focusing on HomeWorks Trenton and making sure that we’re building this one up to be the best it can be. Then, we’ll start expanding to other places.
AR: Since you created the program in 2016, what have been some of your favorite experiences and most meaningful interactions with students?
NT: I don’t think I can really pinpoint one thing. I would say in every interaction [with students], I learned something that really inspired me. They are some of the most resilient people I know, and they might have gone through a lot of challenges, but they’re still willing to learn and are so empathetic. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned from them. They make me see the world in a different way.
AR: In your speech, you mentioned the importance of students finding success within their own communities and how HomeWorks is a “local solution to a local challenge.” How has HomeWorks exemplified these ideals?
NT: My co-founder is actually from the Trenton community and very much believed in empowering girls to stay within their community to enact change. Over the past few years, I’ve talked to hundreds of people on the best way to run this program, and it’s through talking to them that I learned [what it means to find success within the community].
AR: In college, did you have any specific experiences or mentors that influenced you to co-found HomeWorks?
NT: I have this one mentor at Princeton, [Professor in Entrepreneurship] Marty Johnson, who taught the class I took on [social entrepreneurship]. I’ve always wanted to start a school and that was my big dream even during my time at Lawrenceville, and he made me believe that I could make that happen now.
AR: What do you hope Lawrenceville students learn from the Martin Luther King Day of Service?
NT: I think because we’re all in a position of privilege by attending Lawrenceville, it’s really important for us to always check our biases and not assume that everything we’re doing is “good.” It’s about being humble, learning, and working alongside the [communities around us].
AR: Do you have any advice for Lawrentians who want to be more involved in community service, and, specifically, community service through entrepreneurship?
NT: I would say just get out there. The more time you spend in your own community or other communities and hearing others’ voices, the more you learn about the world.