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Above and beyond: Local teens receive presidential honor for volunteer work in SLO County

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Nick, 18, and Sarah Attala, 15, are not your typical SLO teens or even your typical pair of cousins.

Nick and Sarah each spent more than 100 hours in 2015 volunteering at nonprofits in SLO County, earning high honors from none other than President Barack Obama.

On Dec. 15, the Attalas were awarded Bronze and Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Awards, respectively, for their exceptional service to the community. The President’s Volunteer Service Award is given to members of the public of all age groups who have volunteered a specific number of hours of their time to charity organizations.

COMPASSIONATE, DRIVEN, GIVING:  Nick Attala, a senior at San Luis Obispo High School, spends a summer day as a counselor at Jack’s Helping Hand’s annual summer camp for children with cancer. Nick and his cousin, Sarah Attala, received Presidential Volunteer Service Awards on Dec. 15 for volunteering more than 100 hours to nonprofits in the past year. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN BORGES
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN BORGES
  • COMPASSIONATE, DRIVEN, GIVING: Nick Attala, a senior at San Luis Obispo High School, spends a summer day as a counselor at Jack’s Helping Hand’s annual summer camp for children with cancer. Nick and his cousin, Sarah Attala, received Presidential Volunteer Service Awards on Dec. 15 for volunteering more than 100 hours to nonprofits in the past year.

Nick, a senior at SLO High School, told New Times that his itch to serve is rooted in the values his family instilled in him.

“It’s just something I’ve always done, probably since I was 4 or 5 years old,” Nick said of volunteering. “My family influenced me a lot, motivated me to give back to my community and others.”

Almost half of the hours Nick and Sarah donated this year went to SLO nonprofit Jack’s Helping Hand (JHH), an organization that provides services and programs to local children battling cancer. Nick first started volunteering at JHH eight years ago, empathizing with the cause due to his own family’s experience with cancer. 

In the last two years, Nick recruited his younger cousin Sarah to join the volunteering team at JHH. Sarah, a sophomore at SLO High, donated 46 hours of her time to the organization in 2015.

“I want to keep my family involved in Jack’s Helping Hand for as long as possible,” Nick said. “I just love the organization. I love the work that they do. You can really see that it affects our community; that’s what I love most about volunteering there.”

Nick’s first volunteer gig at JHH was when he was 10, folding 600 sets of silverware into napkins to prep for the organization’s annual barbecue in Santa Margarita. True to his nature, Nick has done that every year since, while also expanding his role in the organization and increasing the hours he volunteers.

Nick and Sarah’s innate generosity and loyalty to the organization continually move the adults who work with them.

“I can’t speak highly enough about Nick and Sarah,” said Karen Borges, executive director of JHH. “They’re compassionate, driven, giving, and willing to do whatever you ask. I remember one day at JHH’s annual summer camp, Nick was there for over 15 hours. He drove all the way out to Cambria for the day.”

The Attalas have been all over the county volunteering this year, working at organizations such as AIDS Support Network, Grassroots, the United Way Youth Board, and the SLO Marathon.

“Sarah and I look to include each other,” Nick said. “We have a really good relationship. We just like hanging out.”

Nick juggles volunteering with applying to colleges and playing on the varsity basketball and volleyball teams at SLO High School. While Nick is undecided on what school he’ll attend, he is sure about one thing:

“I will continue to volunteer,” Nick said. “I’m excited to make ties in communities besides SLO if I don’t end up going to Cal Poly.”

Are you feeling as generous as Nick and Sarah Attala this holiday season? Visit Jack’s Helping Hand’s website and learn more about the organization and how you can contribute.

“We’re a small nonprofit, but we do big things,” Borges said. “We help over 50 children per month just in our assistance program. We run six other programs, such as swimming programs and horse therapy programs.

“[Donations] are so helpful to continue doing the great work that were doing in the community.”

Fast Fact 

United Blood Services is hosting a blood drive through Dec. 31. Donate blood at the office on 4119 Broad St. and receive a free lunch from F. McLintocks Saloon and a half pound of hand-crafted fudge from Doc Burnstein’s and The Chocolate Sheep.

Staff Writer Peter Johnson wrote this week’s Strokes. Contact him at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.

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