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Young Aloha volunteer assists those who /neccesita ayuda/

Coral Lara Rizo connects Spanish-speaking families with back-to-school resources.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Coral Lara Rizo is the Beaverton Valley Times' Amazing Kid for 2016. The Aloha High School student has spent years volunteering her time translating for Spanish clients during the Assistance League of Greater Portland's Operation School Bell clothing distributions, which helps low-income families in the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts. Here she is flanked by Trail Blazers legend Terry Porter and Mark Garber, president of the Pamplin Media Group, during a May 9 reception to honor two dozen young people.
Coral Lara Rizo was standing back at the Assistance League of Greater Portland on a Saturday four years ago, watching frazzled volunteers try to communicate with confused Spanish-speaking parents.

Like Coral’s own parents, who had come that day to help outfit the Aloha family’s children for school, the other clients were at the Beaverton-based nonprofit that fall day during the annual Operation School Bell program to help clothe children from lower-income families.

Then just 12, the shy Coral mustered the courage to step up and offer to help translate.

“I asked (an Assistance League member) what age could people volunteer here,” says Coral, a junior at Aloha High School, who turned 17 this week.

The members asked Coral’s parents, who let her stay the rest of the day to help communicate with other parents, about two-thirds of whom speak only Spanish fluently.

Coral came back the next Saturday to help.

And the next.

And the next.

And every Saturday after that for the past four years of Operation School Bell distributions, which run 12 weeks every fall with additional “makeup” dates in January.

“Coral jumped in from the very beginning and was a savior,” says Tish Shinn, one of the Assistance League volunteers who has worked closely with the teen. “What Coral does for everyone in the room is put everyone at ease,” including the volunteers.

“She’s great about coming in and stepping up,” says Allison Mudrick, another Assistance League member.

“I keep doing it because I like it. I really enjoy helping out,” says Coral, who gets particular joy from helping younger children who don’t often get new clothes. “When I tell them, ‘Are you ready to go shopping?’ they jump for joy.”

For families arriving at an Operation School Bell event, some of them anxious and uncertain, Coral is usually the first face they see — and the first comforting Spanish-speaking voice they hear.

She helps families, who are preselected by the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts, with a small amount of paperwork and, when time allows, takes some of the children into the small warehouse to choose their own clothes. After the selections, parents give input on the sizes and receive a credit to pick out shoes at Payless ShoeSource.

“We don’t really know what she says in Spanish to them,” Shinn acknowledges, “but it works.”

“Coral brings joy to those who are fortunate enough to spend time with her,” says Polly Livingston, another volunteer.

Coral says her volunteer work with the Assistance League has helped her blossom in school.

“I used to be this shy girl” who didn’t raise her hand in class, she says. “This has helped me come out of that.”

In fact, she was one of three Aloha students selected for a scholarship by the Close Up Foundation to spend a week in Washington, D.C., where among other things she toured the Smithsonian Institution and met with Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley. She won another scholarship to spend time on the Oregon State University campus to experience college life.

The eldest of six children as young as 4, Coral plans to be the first one in her immediate family to attend college after she graduates from Aloha next year. She also works a part-time job at Fred Meyer.

At this stage, she plans to start her college career at Linn-Benton Community College, where among her classes she plans to continue studying automotive technology, which she started as one of a handful of girls in Aloha High’s program.

But then she plans to transfer to a four-year college, where she expects to major in criminal justice on her way to becoming a police detective or FBI agent.

“My mom wanted me to be a lawyer,” she says.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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