Michelle Tong Bridges Life Experiences with C.A.M.P. Bayview

When Michelle Tong reflects back on volunteering in Madison, she is reminded of one thing – the Bayview Foundation.

Located a few blocks away from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Bayview Foundation provides educational opportunities, quality housing, and access to social services and cultural programming for low-income families. In addition, Bayview is home to many immigrants and former refugees, specifically the Hmong, Laotians, and Cambodians.

“When I came to Madison [as a freshman], I knew I wanted to volunteer in some capacity,” Tong said. “Bayview’s mission really resonated with me.”

In July of 2015, Tong began volunteering in the summer camp program, where she helped with outdoor games and educational activities for elementary and middle schoolers. During the 2015-2016 school year, she continued as an after-school tutor, committing 3-4 hours a week to help students with their homework.

And while Tong enjoyed providing homework support, she saw an opportunity to expand the impact of after-school programs by helping students with the college and job application process.

“There were times when students would come in with applications and say ‘This is due tonight’,” Tong said. “I would help, but I would also tell them that to build a strong application, they should’ve done this a long time ago.”

Situations such as these made Tong realize that there needed to be a specific program to facilitate college and career application support.

“It got me talking to Lisa King, the Youth Programs Coordinator, about how Bayview should have a program just for this,” Tong said.

After meeting with King numerous times, Tong and Oona-Ifé Olaiya, who at the time was a fellow UW-Madison student and a part-time staff member at Bayview, developed a curriculum and name for the program, which is now called C.A.M.P. Bayview.


Students from C.A.M.P. Bayview

C.A.M.P., which stands for College/Career Advancement Mentorship Program, aims to provide high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds with tools to achieve academic and personal success. Most of the curriculum is influenced by Tong’s life experience.

“My dad was laid off my senior year of high school and hasn’t found a job since, so I’ve been helping him write resumes and giving him interview tips since his English isn’t great,” Tong said. “A lot of the C.A.M.P. curriculum that Oona and I built was informally inspired by work sessions with my dad.”

Some of the C.A.M.P. workshops focus on constructing resumes and teaching the students to talk about themselves in a professional manner. Others focus on crafting college applications and touring campus sites.

Teaching and giving students the specific skillsets to succeed has always been personal to Tong, especially since mentors like her older sister and high school teachers have positively shaped her own life.

“It’s very personal to me, especially for people who don’t have the resources to get support otherwise,” Tong said. “Everyone has a rich story that makes them different.”

Since its inception, C.A.M.P. Bayview has helped students start at Madison College. While the program succeeds in encouraging students to think about higher education and develop professional experiences, many of the activities are tight on funding.

“They [Bayview Foundation] really have to fight to show numbers as to why they should receive funding,” Tong said. “Oona and I were always searching for grants to apply for to support this.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, Tong and Olaiya received the Wisconsin Idea Fellowship (WIF) grant for C.A.M.P. Bayview’s pilot year. In the 2017-2018 school year, financial support is coming from a combination of internal Bayview funds and external grants, such as the Wisconsin Without Borders Service Learning Award and the Morgridge Center for Public Service Outstanding Community Partner Award.


C.A.M.P Bayview
The 2016-17 Wisconsin Idea Fellowships C.A.M.P. Bayview project team. From left to right: Oona-Ifé Olaiya, Faculty Advisor Dr. Yang Sao Xiong and Dr. Linda Park, Michelle Tong

However, with Tong moving to New York for medical school in August and Olaiya going to graduate school in two years, there has been a demand for volunteers to sustain C.A.M.P. Bayview. A partnership with the Badger Volunteers program is in progress and is slated to begin in the fall of 2018.

And though Tong will be miles away from a program that she helped put together, her experiences at the Bayview Foundation will continue to shape how she approaches a future career in medicine and the non-profit sector.

“If you would’ve asked me my senior of high school, I wouldn’t have thought of this at all,” Tong said. “The people in Bayview have become a central part of my life.”