Isabella Tejeda is 15 years old and already she is effecting social change.
This summer Tejeda, a Rosary Academy sophomore who lives in Yorba Linda, discovered that every person, no matter how old or young, private or famous, can make a lasting and substantial impact on others’ lives.
“Read a Story, Change a Life” is Tejeda’s Gold Award project for Girl Scouts, designed to inspire imagination and confidence in elementary school children, thus inspiring them to become lifelong readers.
Tejeda worked more than 100 hours this summer to develop the program, which incorporates puppetry, storytelling and writing.
Her program is a partnership with Anaheim-based Higher Ground Youth & Family Services, a nonprofit organization founded by her family friend and fellow St. Martin de Porres parishioner Joe Baldo in 2012. Higher Ground provides mentoring programs for youth and their families in at-risk communities in Anaheim and surrounding areas, as well as many other programs. Tejeda volunteered at Higher Ground’s summer camps for two years prior to developing her project.
“It was very important to me to find a project that would serve both Girl Scouts and my Catholic faith,” Tejeda says. “I believe in the work Higher Ground is accomplishing on a daily basis and it was an honor to be a small part of it.”
An avid reader, she recalls spending hours in the Yorba Linda Public Library as a child, attending story hours and reading mysteries and action-adventure books. “Reading is so important to everyone,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping kids and believe I have a connection with them.”
Tejeda often cites the sobering statistic that children who are not reading at grade level by the end of first grade have an 88 percent chance of not reading at grade level by the end of fourth grade. “Many of the children at Higher Ground are reading two grade levels behind the California State Standard,” she adds. “I wanted to help at-risk kids in Anaheim to promote equality of education and literacy.”
She next plans to continue a Higher Ground club at Rosary this school year and hopes to spread the group to other high schools. More mentors to assist the children will grow the program and its impact, she notes.
A Rosary tennis player and a member of the National Charity League, Tejeda has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. She now is a Senior Girl Scout. “Girl Scouts has helped make me a leader,” she says. “We do a lot of projects and presentations in high school and I’m not as afraid. I appreciate any opportunity to speak up for myself. I also enjoy the sisterhood and friends I have in Girl Scouts.”
Following graduation from high school, Tejeda wants to attend university to become a teacher or lawyer. “Creating the program has helped me realize that even though I’m young I can still make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “A lot of people want to help me, which is awesome.”
In addition to Baldo, Tejeda says her mother Victoria and Yorba Linda Public librarian Amy Paino have been particularly helpful in developing and implementing the “Read a Story, Change a Life” program. She also thanks Yorba Linda City Council member Tara Campbell and a group of 20 volunteers who help operate the program at Higher Ground.
Individuals or groups wishing to contact Tejeda for more information about “Read a Story, Change a Life” should visit her Twitter account for the project, @gsgogold.