Texas Teen Fills in the Gaps for Those Overlooked in His Community

Daily Point of Light # 7828 Jun 6, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Andres Valle. Read his story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Andres Valle, 16, is a six-foot-tall high school junior who likes hanging out with his Chihuahua, Peanut, and reading about the French Revolution and other history. His height isn’t the only thing that makes him visible in his community. It’s his dedication to helping others that really makes him stand out. Andres spends hours each month addressing food insecurity, animal welfare, senior support and mental health education while going to school and holding a part-time job.

He hopes to grow his mental health initiative, Teens Supporting Teens, past graduation next year and has his eye on a couple of California universities as he starts thinking about life after high school. With a simple Google search and a few phone calls, Andres is bound to discover plenty of new ways to impact his new home, regardless of where he goes.

What inspires you to volunteer?

It was just always something I thought of doing. And when I finally got to high school, I started doing more of it. I really got into it. I was like, This kind of cool when you see all the types of people you’re helping. It feels like there’s something bigger than myself.

Tell us about your various volunteer roles.

With El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, I help pack food boxes and then give them to families. I also work with Pet Guardian Angel. That’s fun, because I get to pet and play with animals while helping with their care. I also work with Simpatico Senior Living Center where I lead Bingo games and generally help out. And I do Teens Supporting Teens, an initiative I started where I present at different schools and host workshops about mental health for teens.

What was that process of starting Teens Supporting Teens like once you came up with the idea?

I reached out to one of the counselors at a school and asked about starting this initiative, and she wanted to be part of it. So, I got a team of students from my school, and we started expanding to different schools. I serve two high schools for now, but I’m trying to get more involved with younger students. It’s the end of the year for us, so I’m hoping to do more over the summer and next year.

You’ve also started introducing STEM careers to residents of your housing complex. Have you had a good response?

I think I have. It’s really hard to get engagement. We’ve only hosted one, but I’m trying to do more. I live in Section 8 housing and saw that a lot of careers weren’t really being pushed for lower income people. So, I talked to the housing manager and suggested we host a workshop where we’d show kids different types of fields they can pursue, like engineering and biomedical paths. And I invited the robotics team to show them one of their robots.

What are your long-term plans or goals for these organizations?

I want to focus on Teens Supporting Teens, because I’m passionate about mental health. I want to learn how I can turn it into a nationally-recognized organization like Work2BeWell. Like I said, engagement is hard, especially with the younger community. I want to build a better way to do that.

Andrew (left) and other volunteers collect donations for the Salvation Army at a drive they organized to gather essential items and toys for those in the community.

Do you have any tips for caring for your mental health?

Just like everyone has physical health, they also have mental health, and when you don’t talk about it, it can be diminished. It needs to be cared for as much your physical health.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

You learn to never judge anyone, because you don’t know where they’re coming from. And you really learn how to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. You’re working with all types of people. For example, I work with people who don’t speak English. There’s a language barrier, so I need to learn how to talk to them and how to help them. I’ve learned a lot about diversity and inclusiveness.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

I’m trying to partner with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to get a youth group going. They do projects every month, and I’d love to work together to impact my city. Other than that, I’m trying to find places where we can give talks over the summer.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

When you’re really passionate about something, you want to do it all the time. I’m really passionate about mental health, so I try to post tips as much as I can.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Get to know your community and who it’s made up of. A lot of times, when you go to places like a senior center, you see that no one goes to visit them or you see, like with El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, that not too many people volunteer. When you get to know your community, you get to know your issues and what steps you can take in order to fix them.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

I want people to know that you can have an impact. You can always help someone and better your community.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Andres? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park