STAMFORD, Conn. -- Jennifer Zheng saw firsthand the trials that Chinese children endure in that country’s orphanages. Even better, she felt compelled to do something about it, and the recent graduate of Stamford High hopes to carry that motivation into her career work.
Zheng started the Half The Sky club at Stamford High, which supports orphanages in China and foster care agencies in Connecticut. During her two years as the club’s leader, it had between 10-15 members who raised money through bake sales and other events to support children who have been abandoned by their parents.
Jennifer’s interest in starting the club stemmed from a volunteer visit to China in the summer between her sophomore and junior years. Her parents left China as teenagers to start a new life in the United States, and Jennifer was born here. The visit to China opened her young, precocious eyes.
“It was very inspiring,’’ Jennifer said. “There’s so many children in those orphanages. They don’t have any parents, but they’re so independent. They would put their food away, clean their dishes, and when you’re teaching them, they really want to learn.”
According to a CNN story l ast August, the Chinese government says there are nearly 600,000 orphans in the country. Other groups claim the number might be more than one million. Most of them have disabilities.
Zheng, who also volunteered at day care agencies in Stamford, found the differences in attitudes between Chinese and American children startling. “Here we always have to deal with kids who want to do this and don’t want to do that,’’ Jennifer said. “That’s not the way it was in China. They took care of themselves. They wanted to learn. The cultural divide was very surprising.”
Zheng found her own level of independence growing up in Stamford. Since she was age 8 years old, she worked in a Chinese restaurant owned by her mother on Bedford Street. Zheng took orders by phone, and eventually learned nearly facets of the restaurant’s operation. She also assisted her father with customer contact in his interior design business.
“Talking with customers and communicating with them was great for me,’’ Jennifer said. “I had to converse with people and really figure out what they were saying and what they wanted. I learned how to be direct. I think that communication experience really helped me polish my speaking skills.”
Jennifer sometimes even practiced her music at her mother’s restaurant, which she recently sold. She was also a class officer at Stamford for the past two years, serving as secretary and Vice President.
She will attend the University of Maryland to study business, where she hopes to combine her twin passions of helping children and business to work with a children’s agency when she graduates. She received several scholarships, including one from the Stamford Board of Realtors. She was one of 10 recipients to earn a scholarship from the Realtors.
“I’m grateful for the scholarship from the Stamford Board of Realtors because it acknowledges what I did and the effort I put into it,’’ Jennifer said. “It’s nice that someone thinks my skills are worthy of acknowledgement. It’s a real boost of confidence.”