Emily Lang of Oak Harbor sat in the White House Press Briefing Room in a spot where presidents have addressed the nation for years, and spoke to a crowd of 100 — not to mention those watching the event streamed over the Internet — about the volunteer work she has done for her community.
Emily is just 11 years old.
She was chosen as a Champion of Change for her work with K-Kids, an elementary school program of Kiwanis International. On Sept. 21, 14 Champions of Change chosen from Kiwanis members around the world were invited to the White House to speak about their experiences.
Emily, her parents, Cathy and Karl, her younger sister, Abigail, and her K-Kids advisor, Crescent Harbor Elementary School teacher Debbi Longland, enjoyed a Kiwanis-funded trip to Washington, D.C. The trip marked Emily’s first visit to the nation’s capital, her first airplane flight and her first taxi ride. She also met senators from around the nation, networked with leading Kiwanis International members, toured the White House and had time for sightseeing.
The Champions of Change program was created to honor ordinary Americans doing extraordinary work for their communities. Different national groups are honored weekly. Out of the 14 Kiwanis selected, Emily was by far the youngest. The group was broken down into smaller groups for the panel, and Emily was grouped with high school and college-aged students.
“It was really scary, but it was fun,” Emily said of speaking to the audience. She answered questions about her service projects, K-Kids club and future projects.
“It was a humbling experience, from our perspective as parents, to see our daughter next to these people,” Karl said. Some of the members Emily joined had given 40 or more years of service and raised millions of dollars for international causes.
“She was a rock star!” Cathy added. Leaders of Kiwanis International were thrilled and inspired to meet Emily, she said. “To hear her say she was scared, you never would have known it.”
“I think she was just amazing,” Longland said. “I put myself in her shoes as an 11-year-old and I couldn’t do it!”
Eager to serve
Emily joined K-Kids at age 9 and immediately joined the club’s efforts to raise money for United Nations Children’s Fund to help hungry children. The following year, she became president of the club and led students in helping UNICEF again; Fill the Bus, a canned food drive; and a WAIF donation project to benefit animals.
She also invests much time in Girl Scouts and earned the Bronze award, the highest honor a Junior Girl Scout can achieve.
But service is clearly ingrained in Emily’s heart as she went out of her way to help younger students at school. She asked the school to give her time to help teachers or librarians prepare in the mornings and she donates her recess time to reading to first-grade students.
“I saw a lot of the children struggling and I felt really bad and I said I would help,” explained Emily, who is looking forward to starting to babysit at age 12.
Earlier this year, Emily earned the top Leadership Award for K-Kids, an influential piece in becoming a Champion of Change. Longland nominated Emily for the award, which passed through district and international competitions.
“There were things we didn’t even realize she was doing,” Cathy said. She and her husband are both active in the Parent-Teacher Association, Girl Scouts and other school-related activities.
“We drag our kids to pretty much everything,” Karl said. “They have lots of opportunities to help and they do it wholeheartedly.”
The Langs said Longland made Emily’s success possible by giving her the opportunity to be a leader, and the support of her parents introduced her to the meaning of community service. However, without Emily’s strong desire to help others, she would not have dedicated so much time and effort to service.
“She’s got a kind heart. She’ll pretty much drop anything when someone younger is around to help or play. She’s always been that way,” Karl said. “It’s all about the multiple things she does daily without any real thought, she just does them. She’s just a kind individual.”
“I think probably more than anything, she truly represented a K-Kid,” Longland said of Emily being chosen as a Champion of Change. “So Emily represented K-Kids internationally. Emily, from Crescent Harbor Elementary! Sometimes I get all teary and goosebumpy thinking about it,” Longland said.
While the Langs and Longland were dismayed that they didn’t get to see President Obama during their trip, Emily enjoyed visiting the Lincoln Monument and hunting for Lincoln’s hat at the Smithsonian. After spending some extra time in Washington, D.C. to tour the National Zoo, the National Institute of Arts and the Botanical Gardens, she returned home and will share her experience with groups like the Oak Harbor City Council and the Kiwanis while continuing her daily service and projects through K-Kids and Girl Scouts. She already inspired leaders in Kiwanis International, Karl said, so now it’s up to her to inspire K-Kids and other members of her community.
“I think it affected my life because people are helping by doing little things and some people are doing lots of things,” Emily said. She met a Kiwanis member whose K-Kids bring shoes for those in poverty, and one who raises money for pediatric care.
“It’s about how things start really small and mushroom into something bigger,” Longland said.
“I think if Emily wants to take on a big project, she got the networking she never would have otherwise,” Karl said.
Emily already has her next project in mind: reinstating the Builder’s Club at North Whidbey Middle School, which she currently attends. The Builder’s Club is a middle-school-level Kiwanis International program but it dwindled at middle schools in Oak Harbor due to lack of staff. With the strong presence of the Key Club, a service club at the high school, the missing middle school component would mean a lot to students, Longland said.
And as Emily states in her Champions of Change bio, “anyone can do it.”
“Anybody can do it,” Karl said. It’s a matter of seeing someone in need and then “helping out where you can,” Karl said.
As to her future, Emily said her dad wants her to become governor.
“I want to be president!” she said.
“If I get invited to the White House, I darn well better see you!” Longland laughed.