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Orange County

These Teenagers Go to the Mall to Volunteer

South Coast Plaza event offers youths who want to help an easy way to meet groups in need.

May 19, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

Michelle Aspis came to further her medical ambitions by volunteering at a local hospital. Melissa Sanchez wants to spend her summer working with children at a day camp. And Florence Poon, 13, needs to find a group willing to let her volunteer.

All three Orange County high school students found what they were looking for Sunday at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa's "shopping resort."

"Volunteering was one of the greatest experiences I ever had," said Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, one of the center's managing partners and founder of its first volunteer day. "It's the only way that these charities can survive."

For some teens, volunteerism fulfills a requirement for high school graduation. For others, it's also a useful experience to list on college applications. Daniels said she organized the volunteer day -- featuring representatives from more than 40 nonprofit agencies and attended by about 1,000 kids -- to give the groups and potential volunteers a chance to check each other out.

"Volunteering changed my life," said Daniels, who first volunteered in junior high school for the Special Olympics. Today, she's on the boards of groups such as the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Children's Hospital of Orange County and the Orange County High School of the Performing Arts.

At least some of the teens who viewed the displays and signed mailing lists said they thought volunteer work could change their lives, too.

"I want to be a doctor when I grow up so this will be good for my transcript," said Michelle, 15, a student at Tarbut V'Torah, a Jewish high school in Irvine, of the junior volunteer program at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. Besides, helping nurses with common hospital tasks "sounds interesting."

Melissa, 16, wants to spend part of her summer as a volunteer counselor for Girls Inc., a Costa Mesa day camp. Attending the volunteer day helped, the Huntington Beach teen said, because "you get a real feel for what's out there."

Florence, who also wants to be a physician, said the event was a better way to find volunteer opportunities than searching the Internet. "This is very helpful," said her mother, Shirley Doo. "She planned the whole thing. I just drove her here."

Scott Fitzgerald, marketing director for Princeton Review, which helps students prepare for college, said evidence of volunteer services is increasingly sought by college admissions officers reviewing applications.

"They want to see students get involved in their communities because, when they get to the school, they want to see them get involved in the college community," Fitzgerald said.

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