‘Thinking of ways to help others’: APS seniors honored for serving community

Community Reports

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Fourteen Albuquerque high school seniors are being honored as the 2021 Albuquerque Public School Education Foundation’s Selfless Seniors for their dedication to the community. These students are chosen because of the exemplary work they do not for the sake of adding to their resume, but rather their passion for helping others.

Lawren McConnell from the APS Education Foundation said Frank Frost of Frank Frost Photography partnered with the foundation in 2008 to make this honor possible. His company provides senior photos for each of the 14 seniors. “To have students in this age range that are thinking outside of themselves, thinking of ways to help others, it’s quite extraordinary,” McConnell said.

The 14 students represent each of the high schools in the APS school district. Cameron Ortega of Del Norte High School said she got started with community service when she was in middle school and began volunteering at the Roadrunner Food Bank and has been ever since. She’s gotten a group of friends together to pick up trash near their school. Recently, she was inspired by her brother who’s in the Navy to write letters to veterans and soldiers overseas.

Ortega said her mom has been her biggest inspiration for doing all of these projects. “Ever since I was little, my mom always said that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors,” Ortega said. “I didn’t understand at first but when I went through my own issues, people didn’t know what was happening behind my closed door. I get it now, some days I just really wanted a smile from a stranger, and now I hope to be that stranger making someone else smile.”

Taylor Christiansen of Cibola High School has decided to build up her school as best she can. She’s been class president and is currently student body president in addition to leading the Operation Smile Club. The club raises money for surgeons to operate on children with cleft conditions. She started an apparel business with her brother during the COVID-19 shutdowns and donate a portion of their sales to local nonprofits. “I’ve been taught that where much is given, much is required. I feel like this is my way of giving back because I’ve been given so much,” Christiansen said.

Francesca Miles from New Futures School has dedicated her time to fostering animals and mentoring local middle school students, all of which comes from the drive to make the world a better place for her nine-month-old daughter. “I wanted her to grow up loving animals and loving other people,” Miles said. “We’re in a time right now where the world is so hateful, I don’t want her to grow up with those kinds of views or mindsets. I want her to love other people and take care of her neighbor.”

Miles said she was a high school dropout when she had her daughter, but she wanted to graduate and make a difference in her community. She said the teachers at New Future encouraged her to push her limits and also serve as a reason for her to want to give back to a community who has given so much to her. “When I’m taking care of animals, it’s a wonderful feeling taking them to their forever home and seeing them much better than when I got them. When I’m coaching middle school volleyball, I get to see those students come out of their shell and find a passion for the sport,” Miles said.

Maura Johnson of La Cueva High School has her sights set on making legislative change. She’s working in collaboration with New Mexico legislators on a bill that will allow for mental health absence days in schools. “I think students could really use a win right now and it could help students who have been feeling really overwhelmed and just need a day off don’t want to lie about being sick,” Johnson said. “I think by allowing for that in schools will help get rid of the stigma around mental health issues.”

Visit the APS website for a full list of the 2021 Selfless Senior honorees.

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