With a wealth of experience in tackling homelessness and helping those in need, 17-year-old Kenan Pala is eager to contribute on an even greater level.
The Rancho Bernardo resident plans to launch out as one of 17 young adults appointed to the new San Diego Youth Commission by Mayor Todd Gloria.
Pala started her own nonprofit, Kids4Community, in 2017. The group is dedicated to working with local charities and volunteers to encourage children ages 5 and up to get involved in charity.
“Being part of the Commission is certainly very important and it is an exciting new chapter for my work in the community,” said Pala. “I am very excited because I can use my past experiences in the city-level non-profit organization to enact a very meaningful reform which I believe will benefit the homeless community.”
Gloria said that having the Youth Commission make recommendations to the city will help ensure it supports and serves young people appropriately.
“I am delighted to appoint this group of smart, talented and community-oriented young people to the city’s Youth Commission,” Gloria said in October.
From the start, one of the main goals of Kids4Community has been to help the homeless. The group meets regularly to provide meal service and care packages to the homeless and those in need. Their efforts have gone as far as helping hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Pala said her interest in helping others stems from the example set by her parents, Serhat Pala and Zeynep Ilgaz.
“My parents immigrated here from Turkey in 1998, and they wanted me to understand how grateful I should be living here,” he said. “Giving back to their adopted country has always been important to our family. “
Ilgaz, his mother, said that she and her husband were “extremely proud” of their son.
“Homelessness is a topic that we are very passionate about as a family,” she said. “Children are the future – putting these ideas in the hands of young people is a very smart idea on the part of the committee.”
Pala, who was not allowed to volunteer at many organizations due to her young age, made sure that this age does not prevent anyone from wanting to help out at Kids4Community.
“Opportunities for young people to volunteer are rare,” he said. “With our organization, you just need to search our events online and introduce yourself. No orientation, no projection. If kids want to be able to volunteer, they should be able to.
Pala is also chair of the Lucky Ducklings Youth Advisory Board, which is part of the Lucky Duck Foundation, another non-profit organization whose mission is to foster youth participation in community issues, particularly to help solve the problem. problem of homeless youth.
“I am channeling my work and my resources to Lucky Duck,” he said. “We have planned fundraising events to raise funds and create care packages as part of our efforts for the homeless. We also have other exciting challenges that we are trying as a unique way to get funding.
Pala also volunteers with Interfaith Community Services, Father Joe’s Villages and other groups.
In his final year at Francis Parker High School in Linda Vista, he practiced track and field and cross country, and has just signed up to Yale University for the next four years, where he will be a member of the athletics team.
“I don’t know how or why I love cross country so much,” he said, although he admitted after his first 5K he really enjoyed the challenge.
“I like to surpass myself, he said.
On November 20, he won the San Diego Section V Division V title, leading his team, the Lancers, to the championship with a run of 14: 22.3 over a 2.96 mile Morley Field course. He also holds the record for the fastest 3-mile cross-country time by a San Diegan.
At Yale, he plans to major in economics, finance or business, and has said that investing, stocks, mutual funds, and private equity are all personal interests.
“I want to pursue a career path, but link it to my community and my social work,” he said.
He expects being in a new environment to give him a new perspective on many of the issues that fascinate him.
Pala is aware that changes will need to take place at Kids4Community while he is in school.
“Right now, all of the advisory board members are high school seniors. So we are bringing in more subclasses and training them, so by next fall they will have a good idea of how to run the organization, ”he said.
He also relies on the continued support of his family. Pala has a younger brother, Arden, 12, who is also passionate about helping the homeless.
“I easily have the best family support system there is,” he said. “My parents manage to do everything; they are absolutely amazing.
Meanwhile, Pala is not standing still on issues he wants the Commission to address, such as homelessness and hunger.
“COVID has made these problems worse in San Diego, and that should be a priority,” he said.
Encouraging young people to volunteer at an early age is another topic he believes should be a priority.
He said Commission members are already communicating with each other via email and he is very excited to work with like-minded peers who want to make a difference.
“I’m sure the connections we make will last a lifetime and have an impact beyond San Diego,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to work.