Menlo Park resident James Phelps, a senior at Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, has been awarded the President's Volunteer Service Award for his work as a volunteer with the International Institute of the Bay Area, a Redwood City nonprofit that helps immigrants and refugees, and where he teaches an adult citizenship class.
"I always have been a history geek," James says. "I love it that I can pass on what I know to people who can use it to help themselves."
His passion for volunteering was ignited during a 2011 service trip to Los Angeles organized by his church, Menlo Park Presbyterian, to cook and serve meals at food banks. James went on to help out at the Second Harvest Food Bank in San Carlos, and then, during spring break of 2013, attended a church service trip to Mexicali, Mexico, to participate in a construction project at a church.
In 2013, James also volunteered for Rebuilding Together, which helps people who are struggling financially to refurbish their homes. And he took part in the junior retreat to the Tenderloin in San Francisco, where he worked with organizations such as Glide Memorial and Project Open Hand.
James, who will go to Redlands University in the fall, says the best way to get started in community service is to think about something you feel passionate about and volunteer for an organization that allows you to transfer your passions and skills into volunteer work.