Helping the homeless is something Arden Pala has been doing for most of his life.
The 13-year-old Rancho Bernardo resident has spent many years with his family serving dinner to people at homeless shelters, packing them sack lunches and raising funds to help those in need.
Some of the money came through “The Adventures of Noah’s Flying Car,” a series of children’s books he penned starting at age 8. The three books published so far tell the tale of a boy who travels around the world in his flying car. Around 4,000 copies have been sold, he said.
Arden’s latest endeavor had around 150 volunteers of all ages filling 1,600 “Bags of Hope” for low-income and homeless children and adults. The service project was held Dec. 10 at Interfaith Community Services in Escondido.
“My family taught me that giving back is an important thing to do,” said Arden, the son of Serhat Pala and Zeynep Ilgaz.
Each bag was filled with hygiene items such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush. The 1,300 adult bags were also filled with beanies, lip balm, socks and an emergency blanket. The 300 kids bags also had crayons, Play-Doh, activity kits, socks and beanies.
The items were purchased through a $7,500 donation from the Lucky Duck Foundation, which works to alleviate the suffering of San Diego County’s homeless population.
This fall, Arden spoke about his community service work and calling at a San Diego Rotary Club meeting.
“While I was doing dinner servings I had the chance to talk to people who were living in shelters,” he said. “Their stories really touched my heart, and one person in particular told me about how he had to learn how to manage food and survive under some harsh conditions. Some of the residents started talking to me about how life was living on the streets and the struggles they had to go through along the way. This made me feel awful and I wanted to do more to help these people in need.”
During the pandemic he wrote and directed the award-winning documentary “A Second Chance.” In it Arden interviewed some of those assisted by Interfaith Community Services.
“My goal was to create this documentary that shared with the world a bit of my personal experience as well as share some of the stories that the homeless population here in San Diego shared with me to increase the visibility of this issue,” he said.
San Diego has the fifth highest homeless population in the country, Arden said. While discussed a lot in media and the community, he said less is said about homeless children.
A recent report by San Diego Youth Services indicates that San Diego County has more than 1,500 homeless youth, he said.
“What is most shocking is that homeless youth make up 12 percent of the unsheltered homeless population,” he said. “This is larger than the population of veterans and families.”
To make a difference for those his age experiencing homelessness, Arden created the nonprofit organization Sports4All two years ago. It was inspired by a nonprofit his older brother, Kenan, started several years ago called Kids4Community. With Kenan, 18, now in college that organization has gone on hiatus, though Arden said he has an interest in resuming it.
It was through his brother’s organization that Arden, an eighth-grader at Francis Parker School, said he was first introduced to Perkins Elementary, a K-8 campus near downtown San Diego. He said around 50 percent of its students are homeless.
“I noticed they did not have the ability to play sports and that stuck with me,” he said, explaining there is no physical education teacher at the campus due to budget shortfalls.
So with the help of an adult coach, Arden started a weekly basketball program. It is a sport he enjoys playing.
“I started teaching them basketball after school and have grown it into a program,” he said.
“I am so proud and blessed,” said Ilgaz, their mother. “Kenan started it a number of years ago, but now he is off to college so Arden put his own spin. ... I am so proud to see him do these things in the community.”
Over the past two years, he has raised more $100,000 to help the homeless through his nonprofit. The money has often come through grants and donations such as the one recently provided by the Lucky Duck Foundation.
Sports4All provides opportunities for all low-income youths to play sports. This not only gives them exercise, but learn physical and social skills that can benefit them throughout their lives, according to the organization’s website, sports4.org.
Provided in eight-week sessions, the weekly hour-long activity is free for Perkins’ students in third through eighth grade. They are provided with snacks, water, sports equipment, T-shirts and shoes. The program has grown from three kids to 35. Volunteers, from ages 14 to adult, serve as coaches. Arden’s long-term goal is to expand the program to other campuses.
In addition to the basketball program, the nonprofit hosts four dinner service events at Interfaith, which has served a combined 850 homeless people thus far, and other special events.
Source: Rancho Bernardo News Journal