They have different backgrounds, but the members of the Blue Dragon Explorer Post have one common goal – to improve the quality of life for immigrants, refugees and other residents of our neighborhood.

These 25 teenagers include Laotians, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians, Koreans, Filipinos, Thais, Hispanics, African-Americans and Anglos. They meet weekly at the East Dallas Police storefront to plan service projects. In 1994, the group contributed more than 1,000 volunteer hours.

A large concentration of immigrants and refugees live in the “Little Asia” area in East Dallas. The Blue Dragons are committed to helping these individuals overcome language and cultural barriers and providing them with a safe, clean neighborhood.

“Many of these teenagers are former refugees who have experienced war, hunger and separation from family members,” says Ron Cowart, sponsor of the Blue Dragons.

These teenagers know what it is like to be unfamiliar with the languages and customs of a new country.

Because the “Little Asia” neighborhood has a high crime rate, the Blue Dragons teach crime prevention to residents. They install door peepholes in apartments for safety and explain to residents, in their native languages, how to prevent apartment robberies.

The Blue Dragons also help the children of these residents with a reading and mentoring program. Each week, the teenagers read stories to non-English-speaking children.

“They feel they are contributing to a world that has become skeptical about its young people,” Cowart says. “They have imposed on themselves a standard of conduct and leadership that contributes to their being role models.”

Their list of service projects goes on and on – they prepared and served lunches at the Austin Street Shelter, collected and distributed 250 coats to needy children and adults in East Dallas, and visited with senior citizens at the Bryan Manor Nursing Home.

They also have ventured outside our neighborhood to paint over graffiti in South Dallas, provide lawn care for an elderly woman in Pleasant Grove, serve Thanksgiving dinner to 100 senior citizens at the Martin Luther King Community Center in South Dallas, and collect and distribute blankets for the needy in Oak Lawn.

Last month, these students were recognized for their volunteer efforts and accomplishments. The Blue Dragon Explorer Post was named the Outstanding Volunteer Youth Group of the Year at an awards luncheon sponsored by the Volunteer Center of Dallas County.

The Blue Dragons are an example of a diverse group of individuals overcoming their fears and cultural differences as they work together to help their neighbors.