SAN MATEO (KPIX 5) Summer vacation has just begun, and a Peninsula teenager could be relaxing, going to summer camp, or taking it easy. Instead, Isabela Acenas is planning a trip overseas, so she can make a difference for others.
Acenas visited the Philippines last summer, where she developed a love for the children she met. The 17-year-old Burlingame High School junior spent a month as a mentor, tutor, and all-around big sister to about 50 Filipino kids during her stay.
"They're super energetic, they're super rowdy and super loud, but seriously, every minute was worth it." she said.
Acenas has strong ties to the Philippines, both her parents were born there, and she has been inspired to help homeless Filipino children she met at the House of Love orphanage in Quezon City as well as others who go to school in Pasig City. Acenas collects and packs up clothes to send to the young children that need them.
"For me to be so lucky to live in the U.S. with parents who provide for me, it would be wrong for me to be ignorant of everyone living in a harsh situation back home." she explained.
She outlines the issue of providing aid to the orphans and her plan of action in a paper she wrote back in October.
Acenas has collected hundreds of donated clothes, books, and supplies, but her influence does not stop there, Acenas has also used what she learned in the Philippines to encourage other teenagers to make the most of their community service.
She has been recognized by both the Mid-Peninsula Boys and Girls Club in San Mateo and the San Mateo Union High School District for starting her own service project, where she has rounded up fellow volunteers to help out. Acenas has taught her peers how to recruit volunteers and fundraise for her cause. She also has volunteers writing to Filipino children in Tagalog.
While Acenas has developed a passion for helping Filipino children in need, her commitment to service has not been contained to only offering aid to those overseas. She also plans other events in San Mateo County ranging from spelling bees, to field day for special needs kids.
Acenas has relished the opportunity to help others, saying that, "I'm not the best at school. I'm not the best in sports. But I feel like here, this is where I can let my other skills shine".
She has shined indeed, and her peers have taken notice. "She cares about other people from other places which sets a good example for us, too, which makes us want to do more for the other children outside the United States." said 7th grader Cheyenne Reed.
So for serving children in the Philippines and on the peninsula, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Isabela Acenas.
Acenas has set up a GoFundMe account for House of Love orphanage that she supports. Donations can be given at: https://www.gofundme.com/isabela
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