Palisades High School and the Palisades-Malibu YMCA’s Center for Social Responsibility (Y-CSR) have banded together in an effort to develop ethical leaders of exemplary character.
Students are required to do 40 hours of community service before graduation, but senior Callen Gordon has more than doubled the number of hours required.
Growing up, Gordon was inspired by her family’s constant volunteer efforts and saw from an early age the importance of generosity.
“Giving back to our community has always been such a significant part of what my family stands for,” Gordon said. “Whether we’re out feeding the homeless, cleaning up a beach or giving blood, I’ve learned that involving myself in these good works allows me to not only learn so much about the world, but perhaps most importantly, learn more about the kind of person I am and hope to be.”
Since beginning high school, Gordon has expanded on her passions for animals and children by volunteering her time at the Friends of Animals Foundation and the Westside Children’s Center where she worked with underprivileged children.
“Playing with the kids, reading them books and seeing the excitement on their faces as I taught them how to tie their shoes or peel string cheese was so rewarding,” Callen said. “I know a lot of these kids don’t come from great homes and it meant a lot to be able to make their day just a little better. It wasn’t ‘40 hours’ for me, I just want to do as much as I can.”
The goal of the Y-CSR is to encourage students to embrace responsibility for their actions and to have a positive impact, through their activities, on the school, local community and the world.
Gordon said her experience working with youth and animals helped her to explore her passions and develop an appreciation for lessons learned while volunteering.
“I enjoyed every moment of working with the kids and the animals,” she said. “It was really so simple and by the end, I learned so much about myself, what makes me happy and who I want to be. It never feels like work and it’s so rewarding.”
Although working with children and animals provided two very different atmospheres, Callen found herself equally fulfilled in both. Whether cleaning out cat cages, teaching young students to read or even sweeping the shelter floors, Gordon formed permanent bonds with both children and animals that she said kept her coming back long after her required hours were met.
“I think it’s great that we are required to volunteer,” she said. “I like to think that most of us would be doing this regardless, but you’re guaranteed to learn something and hopefully be inspired to continue giving back.”
YMCA staff members work with students to help them find their passions through service learning; for many students, this results in life lessons that strengthen both character and college applications.
Gordon, who hopes to study psychology when she goes to college in the fall, has every intention of continuing her volunteer work after high school. “No matter where I go to school, what city I end up in, I will absolutely find a way to volunteer in my community,” she said. “Why would I ever stop?”