“While there are so many organizations who are doing amazing work at the front-lines of combating COVID-19, I wanted to make sure not to forget amazing organizations like Freshwater that are doing critical work that may not be on the forefront of people’s mind.” – Freshwater donor Hahn Chang
The year 2020 turned our world upside down. But thanks to donors like Hahn, generosity, caring and a desire to make a difference shine through. Meet Hahn Chang, a Freshwater donor who, during COVID, took his usual restaurant budget and channeled it to charity instead. His philanthropy is just one of the many ways he gives back. Hahn kindly took the time to answer a few questions about himself for us this fall. Be prepared to laugh, cry, and be inspired by a heart-warming human, Hahn.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I would describe myself as a pretty goofy guy who enjoys making people smile and laugh. I really value conversations, jokes, friendship, and family, and I hope that I bring light to the people I am fortunate enough to cross paths with in life.
Q: Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
Q: Do you have any strong water memories or experiences from your youth?
One of my favorite water-based stories from my youth, when I was about four years old, is one time my parents told me we were going to a Korean person’s home for dinner and his name was Peter Kang. His last name is the same pronunciation as the word for river in Korean. Thus, when my mom said, we are going to Peter Kang’s house for dinner, I told my mom, I don’t know a Peter Kang is but I know a Mississippi Kang (River). I remember this story clearly because I really loved the Mississippi River growing up, but just as importantly, I attribute my love (and overuse) of dad jokes to this moment.
As it directly relates to water, I still remember the first time I ‘crossed’ the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park when I was three. It is one of the first memories I have and I remember seeing beautiful butterflies as I was crossing.
Q: Is there a body of water that is extra special to you?
My dad loves camping and as a kid we would go to a lot of the state parks. Some favorites are Kathio State Park on Lake Mille Lacs, Lac Qui Parle State Park on Lac Qui Parle Lake and of course Itasca State Park on Lake Itasca. I especially loved Kathio State Park because of the 100 ft watch tower you could climb up and you could see all of the lakes for miles on end on a clear day. I always feel a sense of wonder when I go up to that watch tower to see the various lakes, including Lake Mille Lacs, all around.
Outside of Minnesota, I am always struck by the majesty of the Pacific Ocean. My parents crossed it (by air) when they immigrated here and I was fortunate enough to live in California. Just seeing and listening to the endless ocean is something that always strikes me with awe.
Q: Tell us about your educational background and career.
After graduating high school, I went to do an AmeriCorps program in Los Angeles where I worked full-time as a tutor at a high-need middle school. It was an amazing experience and when I went to college, I thought I would become a teacher. While I did not become a teacher, through various twists and turns I was a business consultant, did sales at a health tech start-up, and found my way into working on political campaigns. I most recently managed the campaign of Dan Feehan who ran for Congress as a Democrat in southern Minnesota (Worthington, Mankato, Albert Lea, Austin, Rochester, Winona-areas). While we came up short in our campaign, I greatly enjoyed working for a candidate who I believe exemplified the best of our country and its values.
Q: Tell us about your hobbies and volunteer service
I enjoy reading! I just finished a book ‘Humankind’ which was a really fun and uplifting read going through the various evidence in social science and anthropological biology about how most people are fundamentally very decent. I also enjoy doing crossword puzzles (slowly and with a lot of guesses). Other than that, I enjoy running. I ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota in 2013. While I am proud that I finished (with a very slow time), I will never forget being overtaken by a pack of grandmas at around Mile 22 and thus losing Grandma’s Marathon to grandmas.
Q: What is one accomplishment of which you are most proud?
The hip hop star Nicki Minaj once told me I was her hero!
Q: How did you first discover Freshwater?
I was first told about Freshwater through B Lauer who served at Freshwater through AmeriCorps . Once she told me about how special the organization was to her, I wanted to find out more and hearing/reading about the work Freshwater was doing inspired me to want to give.
Q: Why do you choose to invest in Freshwater at this time? What do you hope your dollars will accomplish? /How has the pandemic impacted your giving?
I love eating out and trying new restaurants and breweries. While I have tried to keep up some level of spending to support local small businesses, I have found that my budget for eating out has decreased. Thus, I wanted to make sure that that money was used to support great organizations. While there are so many organizations who are doing amazing work at the front-lines of combating COVID-19, I wanted to make sure not to forget amazing organizations like Freshwater that are doing critical work that may not be on the forefront of people’s mind.
Q: What other charitable organizations do you chose to support and why?
Another great organization I give to is Alight, an organization that works with refugees around the globe but is based in Minneapolis. I first interacted with them when I was in high school and over the past decade (and beyond now), I have gotten a chance to see their work evolve as they serve and empower refugees all around the world.
Q: Do you have any advice for future generations of Minnesotans regarding our waters or the environment?
I think of Dr. King’s quote that everyone can be great because everyone can serve. I really value the work Freshwater is doing because they are guided by science and experts in the field, but even for us non-experts, we can all do our part. For example, all of us imperfectly working to eliminate our plastic waste is better than just a few of us being perfect at it and the rest of us not trying at all. I think about how we all can find ways in our own lives through our consumption, through our donations, through our activism, and through our social interactions to find ways to be advocates for clean water and our environment.
Q: What is one thing above all else you want for our communities in the future?
My parents immigrated to Minnesota with the hope that their kids, my brother and I, would have a better life. Through their hard work and a welcoming community, we have been fortunate to have gotten the best of what Minnesota is and offers. However, I know that this is not the reality for so many people, especially many Black Minnesotans, Native Minnesotans, and other Minnesotans of color. I hope that our communities will be equitable so that all Minnesotans can have the amazing Minnesota experience my family was afforded. I know clean water is one major pillar of equity which is why I am proud to support an organization like Freshwater that works in ensuring that clean water is a right for all.
Q: Any final encouraging words or thoughts you would like to convey?
I just appreciate this opportunity to share more about myself and it’s a testament to Freshwater and the staff/team they have. It’s funny how after I first learned about Freshwater, I keep hearing great things about the organization and its people from all sorts of people I didn’t know had connections/affiliations to Freshwater. It just goes to show the strength of the community given the amazing work they do and the amazing team that they have!