Coming from a place of “yes,” Michael Vang has grown with the Roots team.

Here’s a word Michael Vang says a lot: Yes. It’s the word he uses to start many sentences, the way the rest of us say “uhm” or “er.” It’s how he responds to many – many! – requests for his time and attention. That one word does a good job of summing up this nineteen-year-old’s positive, high-energy outlook on life. It’s no wonder that he’s become such a valued member of the Roots for the Home team organization over the years. Michael always seems to turn up wherever he’s needed most. He’s given TV interviews, served as a panel member for a Whole Kids Foundation webinar, led the Target Field crew as a cart captain, and even co-facilitated development workshops for youth teams.

These days, Michael is attending the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities full time, as a sophomore computer science major. He’s still involved with Roots for the Home Team, now serving as a member of the Youth Advisory Council. So how did a young person who never really liked to cook end up as such a valuable member of a food-focused organization? Michael tells his story: “When I was 14, I started working in the Cook Fresh program at Urban Roots,” he says. “The program teaches food skills and explores the intersection of food, culture, justice, health and cooking with the community. The Chef-Lead Cooking series allowed me to meet so many different chefs, and they were so excited and energetic about their cultures.”

“It inspired me to learn more about my own Hmong culture, and it helped me gain an appreciation of who I am.”

From there, Michael began working with Roots for the Home Team. One highlight of his tenure was the “Finding Your Roots” interning- to-work workshop. “I met lots of different kinds of leaders, and it got me to wondering about the whole concept of my personal leadership style,” he says. The workshop outlined four leadership styles, known as buffalo, eagle, bear and deer. “I found out I’m a deer, which means I’m a leader who is a relationship builder. I’m very group-centric, and I’m happy to be behind the scenes, as long as I can connect with and learn more about the people I work with.”

As part of his work with the Youth Advisory Council, Michael has been helping with the launch of the group’s first project. True to his “deer” leadership style, he’s been working as the council’s facilitator. “I guide the discussion, make sure everyone has a voice and help the group talk things out and formulate a plan,” he explains.

Having Michael part of Roots has been such a gift to our program, says director Sue Moores. He is the very essence of all we hope participants will experience in Roots” curiosity, courage, and an interest to explore and learn. His insatiable appetite to try new opportunities is inspiring to other youth and frankly, to me and everyone who gets to meet him.

Michael has been considering two possible paths for his post-graduation life.

“Plan A is to find a full-time job in computer science,” he says. “Plan B is to build a business myself. Before I became involved with Roots for the Home Team, I wasn’t really interested in entrepreneurship, but it’s opened up that world to me, and I’d like to explore that idea a little bit more.”

While Michael has been strengthening his leadership skills, he’s also learned about lots of different approaches to growing, eating and cooking food. “I get into the kitchen a lot more compared to when I was younger,” he says. “I wasn’t a good cook back then – I’d say I was definitely a work in progress. I could make scrambled eggs, toast and maybe sometimes some chicken. I wasn’t much of a vegetable eater before, but now I’m hooked.”

What are his favorite foods these days? “I’m interested in Japanese cuisine, and I love panko and tempura. Zucchini, spinach and cabbage are my favorite vegetables, and I usually eat them in stir fries or pasta. One of my favorite Roots’ salads of all time was the Poke Breeze Salad. We created it with chef Ann Ahmed of Lat 14 Asian Eatery and Lemongrass Thai.”

“Now, I’m all about trying new things and new foods,” he says. “I was recently out with some friends at a hot pot restaurant, and they convinced me to try frog legs.” His verdict? “Really tender, tastes like chicken.”