Contributed by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards with 2017 honoree Kenan Pala.
Kenan Pala is living proof that you’re never too young to make a difference. At 14, he’s already started a youth service nonprofit, had a day named after him in his hometown of San Diego, and helped set a Guinness World Record by leading a school project to create the world’s largest cardboard-box mosaic – made out of cereal boxes that were then donated to a local shelter.
His message for kids is clear: You don’t need to do a huge project to do good in the world.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards named Kenan one of America’s top middle level volunteers of 2017 for his work helping the homeless. We check in with Kenan about his inspiration, what he’s learned from other young volunteers, and how he gets it all done.
Tell us about your volunteering over the years, and what you’re doing now.
Over the past couple of years, I have started a nonprofit called Kids4Community that helps kids help the community. When I was younger and passionate about volunteering, my parents and I found it very difficult to find places to volunteer because there were so many age restrictions at different organizations. The events that we put together at Kids4Community are open to anyone of any age and vary from holiday drives to beach cleanups to 5k runs to dinner servings. In the more recent months, we have been working on partnering with more schools and organizations to help the community in more creative ways to expand our impact in San Diego.
What inspired you to get involved?
Ever since I was able to walk, I have been volunteering. My parents came to the United States when they were only in college for school, and they’ve been so grateful for the opportunities present in the United States that weren’t a reality in their home country. Therefore, I have been grateful enough to have grown up in an atmosphere where volunteering is just a regular part of my day. We would go to homeless shelters and serve dinner, or go to senior citizen centers and play board games with the people there every week, and that is what got me into volunteering.
Give us a sense of how you fit your volunteer work in with school and other extracurriculars. What does your daily routine look like?
I am currently a freshman at Francis Parker High School, and I am on the varsity cross country, so my school work takes up a lot of time. I go to school from around 7:45 to 3:05 and then have practice from 3:30 to 5:40 and then go home and work on homework from the time I get back to the time I go to bed, 8:00. However, every morning I wake up at around 4:30/5:00ish to go on a morning and work on Kids4Community, the nonprofit I founded in early 2017 late 2016. On the weekends, I run, bike and do homework through various times of the day. However, I always make sure to get some volunteering in whether its a dinner serving that Kids4Community is hosting, or planning for an upcoming Kids4Community event.
Some kids your age may think they’re too young to make a real impact with their volunteer projects -- or they might not even know where to start. What would you tell them?
The journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step. When you first get into volunteering, it’s tough to figure out where to begin. If you’re not sure how to start, just take baby steps. I like to say it doesn’t matter if you’re donating a toothbrush or raising $10,000 for a cause, you’re making a difference. For those kids that think that they’re too young to make a real impact, any act of kindness can make an impact.
A friend of mine that I met at the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards had started a nonprofit that did random acts of kindness, both big and small, around his town. It was very inspiring, and when I did some research on the nonprofit organization he started (RAK Louisville), I saw that he was making a significant impact on his community. What can be gained from that story is you can really do any type of volunteering, the sky's the limit, but in the end in you’ll make an impact. And don’t think you’re too young to volunteer, if there’s a will there’s a way. So, if you have the passion and determination to make a difference in your community and help others, age is just a number.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards honors students in grades 5-12 who have made meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service. Applications for 2019 awards are open through November 6, 2018. Learn more at http://spirit.prudential.com.
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