Never underestimate the power of inspired teens because they have the potential to change the world. Teens have been responsible for developing some of the most creative inventions of today, and San Diego teens are no exception. The following San Diego County students are making the world a better place with their focus on community work, culturally inspired decals, and an invention that addresses a global health issue.
Do you know a San Diego County teen making an impact in the local community? Tell us about the person by emailing
Arden Pala: Sports4Kids
Arden Pala, a freshman at Francis Parker in Linda Vista, founded the nonprofit Sports4Kids to provide opportunities for low-income youth to play sports while building physical and social skills. Pala was inspired to start Sports4Kids after volunteering to read to students at Perkins Elementary. During one of these visits, Principal Hernandez told him about an important issue facing the school: They had to let go of their fitness coach due to budget constraints.
“My vision for Sports4Kids was to create a level playing field where every child, regardless of circumstances, can benefit from the positive impact of sports,” says Pala. “Since its inception, we have raised over $140,000 [via grants, donors and sponsorships], benefitting more than 7,500 underserved individuals.”
Sports4Kids has dramatically impacted the community by introducing 450 children to team sports, offering them a sense of belonging and the opportunity to learn essential life skills. The organization’s youth volunteers have dedicated 6,500 hours to serving people experiencing homelessness.
In addition to starting a successful nonprofit, Pala created a documentary called A Second Chance, offering an honest look into San Diego’s homeless community and how we can make a difference.
How to support Arden Pala and Sports4Kids
- Sports4Kids welcomes youth volunteer assistant soccer and basketball coaches ages 14 & up.
- The nutrition program offers volunteers an opportunity to serve at a soup kitchen every other month.
- Sports4Kids hosts two annual events: Back2School in August and Bags of Hope during the Christmas season.
Grace Sun: Melodies for Remedies
Grace Sun graduated from The Bishop’s School in La Jolla in spring 2023 and was recently announced a national winner of the coveted Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes for her nonprofit Melodies for Remedies. Melodies for Remedies performs free concerts at senior homes, family care centers, hospitals and to disadvantaged people.
“Our mission is to provide opportunities for students to perform while forging deep connections with their peers and communities through active volunteer engagement,” says Sun. “We utilize performing arts to provide healing and comfort to those in need through various performances, events and music therapy.”
Melodies for Remedies is student-run and volunteer based, working in partnership with six student-led organizations that provide concerts (live and via Zoom) around the U.S. The organization has over 115 members in four different countries, and has raised $4,000 for Alzheimer's research and care. Sun and her organization have established connections with UC San Diego Health, Serving Seniors, Hershey’s, United Nations Association, Treedom, Glenner Alzheimer's Family Centers and others.
Sun was inspired to start the organization after volunteering to play piano at a senior home. “As I performed, I was surprised and delighted to see how engaged and appreciative the seniors were,” says Sun. “I found my passion to spread the positivity of music to people who needed it more than I did.” What started as Zoom concerts to senior living centers in La Jolla expanded to Alzheimer's care centers, veteran homes, hospitals and more.
“I used to think community service was something people did because they needed service hours for school,” says Sun. “This experience taught me that high school students like me can make a difference in the community. I've found my true passion is serving people.”
How to support Grace Sun and Melodies for Remedies
Visit the website or connect via social media for information on donating and volunteering.
Note: The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes is an annual national award that honors outstanding young leaders ages 8–18 who have made a significant positive difference to people and the environment. Fifteen top winners receive $10,000 each to support their service work or higher education. Learn more at www.barronprize.org.
Isabelle (Izzy) Mak: Little Notes Paper Co.
Izzy Mak is a senior at Del Norte High School in 4S Ranch who launched Little Notes Paper Co, a stationery brand featuring designs inspired by Asian culture. She sells stickers, greeting cards, washi tape, keychains and suncatchers in her online Etsy shop, Little Notes Paper Co. She also works with customers to create customized gift stickers for the holidays.
Mak is excited to take studio art this school year. “I love being able to pick a portfolio theme that I care about and am excited to create.” The marketing economics class she took sophomore year sparked inspiration and offered learning opportunities that helped her build her business. Along with running an Etsy business, Mak is taking five AP classes, including literature, studio art, government, Chinese and statistics.
“I have learned much more than I ever thought I would,” says Mak. “I don’t have a storefront, so I have learned about online algorithms, utilizing social media to put products in front of people, and to take initiative by reaching out to others for help growing my business.”
How to support Izzy Mak through Little Notes Paper Co.
Meet Mak in person and purchase Little Notes Paper Co. products at the Makers Arcade Holiday Fair at Broadway Pier (downtown) on Dec. 2 & 3. Connect with her via Instagram or email, and buy products on Etsy.
Etsy: Little Notes Paper Co.
Malia Wilke, Miranda Martien and Elizabeth Young: FIREfly Health
Three local students attending Mt. Everest Academy in Clairemont Mesa created the FIREfly Health stove, a safe, affordable and efficient stove that combats indoor air pollution in households around the world. Malia Wilke (eighth grade), Miranda Martien (ninth grade) and Elizabeth Young (10th grade), in collaboration with teachers Mr. Nielsen and Dr. Rodenberg, took first place in the 2023 University of San Diego’s Jacobs Teen Innovation Challenge, which supports educators and teens in developing social solutions aligned with the UN’s Global Goals.
“The inspiration for designing these stoves came from hearing stories about indoor air pollution,” says Martien. “This issue is much worse in developing countries that do not have access to modern luxuries and resort to open and unsafe fires.” FIREfly Health stoves are an effective replacement for open fires, which produce large quantities of smoke in an enclosed space.
“Breathing in smoke has numerous negative effects on health and can lead to many serious diseases,” says Wilke. “It is vital that an efficient replacement is used to cook food and provide warmth.”
The students created the FIREfly Health stove using recycled food and paint cans. Their design follows the World Health Organization’s guidelines for indoor air quality and household fuel combustion. The students also developed an instructional pamphlet on how to build the stove (available in English, Spanish, French and German). Their prototype was successful in cooking eggs and boiling water, while directing smoke away.
The future mission of FIREfly is to have the support of the United Nations to distribute stove pamphlets, can openers and can cutters, along with food cans. From there, people can follow the steps outlined in the pamphlet to create the stove.
What does FIREfly mean?
“FIRE” stands for:
- Fumes reduced
- Inexpensive innovation
- Reused materials
- Environmentally friendly
“Fly” refers to the fact that the stoves are fast and easy to make.
How to support the mission of FIREfly Health Stoves
Learn more about the stove and the girls’ efforts: www.pactful.org/jtic23
Donate to (and learn more about the project): https://gofund.me/dbac55f9
Megan Woolsey is a freelance writer who lives in Carlsbad with her husband, teenage triplets and their older sister.
Do you know a San Diego County teen making an impact in the local community? Tell us about the person by emailing Lisa Gipson:
Published November 2023