El Camino High student volunteers take action to help less fortunate locally, abroad

Students at El Camino High School in South San Francisco have been actively reaching out to those less fortunate, both locally and globally, through one of the school's many service organizations.

At least 50 student volunteers involved in the Students in Action group have worked to raise money and awareness for childhood cancer research, collected food for the hungry and started raising awareness for families torn apart by war in Sudan. They have also come up with an innovative competition-based approach for a can drive with the same name as a popular movie — the Hunger Games — for the upcoming holiday season.

El Camino Assistant Principal Linda McDaniel said that some students felt particularly inspired by the story of Juliana Pena, a young girl within the South City community who passed away of a childhood cancer.

“I think that kind of sparked their interest and made them want to do more,” McDaniel said of Juliana's battle.

Juliana, who was the child of two former El Camino students, battled a relatively common type of childhood cancer known as neuroblastoma, which develops from immature nerve cells in several areas of the body.

Volunteers working with Students in Action took an interest in Juliana's story, and they subsequently helped raise funds that went toward Juliana's Journey, a foundation that raises money for childhood cancer research.

“Not only was it successful in raising money, but I think it helped raise awareness about the cause,” said senior Payal Ram, a volunteer with the organization. “We ended up raising over $1,000, which will go to childhood cancer research.”

Sophomore Chisom Nzerem also volunteers with Students in Action and worked toward raising money for Juliana's Journey. She's now looking ahead toward raising money for a cause not so close to home: families torn apart by the ongoing violent conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan.

Nzerem hopes that through a partnership with an international aid organization that helps rescue and reunite orphaned children and separated family members, she and other students can raise funds and awareness about the hardships and tragedies faced by young people in another part of the world.

“I really wanted to do that because my parents are also from Africa, and I actually know a lot of people from Sudan. So that motivated me,” she said.

As part of the outreach, Nzerem hopes to bring a survivor of the Sudan crisis to the school to speak and tell his or her story to El Camino students.

Meanwhile, Nzerem and Ram have been counting the money and tallying the cans the group helped collect for its winter can drive. Working with another school-service organization, the Colt Society, the Students in Action organized a schoolwide competition, known as the Hunger Games, to see which grade level could collect the most cans. The seniors won, but there's another collection drive coming up: the Toys for Tots winter toy drive.”It's basically a toy drive for kids in our community, and we're going to do a class-wide competition to see who can raise the most toys for those less fortunate,” Ram said.

The toy drive will likely wrap up by the first week in December, the students said.

The Students in Action club was recently awarded a 2014 Gold Service Leadership Award for its work within the community.

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