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Giving back to both ends of the age spectrum

Centennial High School senior volunteers with both seniors and youth


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Mackenzie Olson has a soft-spot for seniors and youth, but plans a career in health care management.

Eighteen-year-old Mackenzie Olson is an admitted “A-type personality.” She is a planner and a doer in every aspect of her life, attacking her academics and volunteering with the fervor of a stubborn pit bull. She pretty much embodies the sentiment “lead, follow or get out of my way” with a quiet determination and focus.

Yet Mackenzie is also one of the few people who can say she discovered a career ambition at a young age. Her calling was born from a chance opportunity as a youngster that has firmly rooted the course she’s set for her future.

Born and raised in Gresham, Mackenzie is the daughter of Kim and Rob Olson. The Centennial High School senior has maintained a 4.0 grade-point average for four years, amid a balancing act of sports, student leadership and community service.

But it was a visit to Marquis Care Center in Oregon City when she was 10 years old where she developed a soft spot for seniors afflicted with memory issues.

“My godmother was the administrator, and she asked if I’d like to go out there someday,” Mackenzie said. “I was interested in helping others, so one day during Christmas break, I went with her. I loved it.”

For the past eight years, Mackenzie has volunteered her time among residents who struggle with more than simple forgetfulness. The experience has given her a new appreciation for the gifts in her own life and shown her the impact a simple act of kindness can have on someone else. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Mackenzie Olson has volunteered in the memory unit at Marquis Care of Oregon City for eight years. It's rewarding, she says, to pamper residents with simple pleasures like painting their fingernails or helping with their make-up.

“Some days, I help the residents put on their makeup or do their hair because it’s not easy for the aides to get around to help and the residents can’t do it by themselves,” Mackenzie said. “It’s fun because they get all excited about how they look. It’s been a long time since they’ve been pampered like that. It’s rewarding.”

In October, Mackenzie launched plans for a senior prom, an event designed as a step back in time for residents of two Marquis facilities. The idea was to rekindle fond memories of another era for senior prom guests via music and dancing.

Nearly 50 residents, ages 70 to more than 90, arrived by bus at Centennial High School on Saturday, Jan. 12. The guests from Marquis care centers in Oregon City and Northeast Portland received boutonnieres at the door and, along with family and staff members from the facilities, enjoyed an evening of refreshments, memorable music and dancing.

There was even a king and queen from each facility.

“They danced to a Frank Sinatra song, and it was super cute,” Mackenzie said. “One lady left her wheelchair behind so she could dance. Our school principal was there, and all the (Associated Student Body) officers even danced. It was a lot of fun, and there are a lot of kids who want to make it a tradition.”

While her first love is working with seniors, Mackenzie strives to reach both ends of the age spectrum. Twice a week, she reinforces teamwork, positive social interaction and personal responsibility as a coach for middle-school volleyball players through the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program. It’s good preparation for the athletic and personal challenges of high school, Mackenzie said.

“I definitely think that being on a team or being part of a club is important when you get to high school,” she added. “It’s fun; it’s character-building and it teaches life skills. And it keeps kids out of trouble.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Twice a week, Mackenzie Olson volunteers as a volleyball coach with the SUN Program at Centennial Middle School. Being involved in a club or athletic team, she says, is fun and also teaches teamwork and responsibility.

Mackenzie has been elected secretary to Centennial’s ASB the past two years and also serves as a student representative to the district’s school board. She is responsible for bringing student news to the board, extending invitations to school events and sharing student perspectives on school board issues.

But she’s also seen “the nitty gritty” of the board’s business as its members wrestle with the district’s financial and staffing needs. Mackenzie admits to a newfound respect for the board’s volunteers.

“The people on the board are very passionate about the schools,” she said. “Being the student representative to the board has made me realize how much the district has done for me and my career goals.”

Mackenzie “will probably” follow family tradition and attend Oregon State University. She is focusing on a career in health care administration, and hopes to become a care facility administrator someday.

“I volunteer because now I know I’m capable of doing things to help others when their families can’t be there,” Mackenzie said. “I think it’s like a full circle in how people treat each other. I feel like I’m giving back in the best possible way, with compassion and love, and I hope someday it will be returned to those who are important to me.”

Do you know a Shining Star?

Shining Star is a feature that recognizes local students quietly doing great things in the community. Outlook readers, parents and teachers are encouraged to tell us about a student of any age whose talents outside the academic arena are making our world a better place. Do they volunteer regularly at a retirement center? Have they taught an artistic practice to a youth group? What are they doing in the community that makes us proud to call them our neighbor?

Tell us about a Shining Star you know by contacting Anne Endicott at 503-492-5118 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

And watch for the next Shining Star in the Tuesday, Feb. 19, issue of The Outlook.




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