Small acts of kindness have been a part of 17-year old Amara Horton’s life since she was a third grader at Kyrene de la Estrella Elementary School.
Volunteering with various community groups, churches and schools is woven into the fabric of the Desert Vista High School senior’s life and urges of other teens becoming involved once COVID-19 parameters allow more opportunities.
Not being able to help during the pandemic is one of the most frustrating parts for the Ahwatukee teen – along with not hanging with friends or starting her senior year without the camaraderie and bustle of DVHS hallways and classrooms.
But Amara found one outlet for her volunteer spirit as her mother, Irmalisa Gutierrez-Horton works at the Kyrene Family Resource Center.
The teen has been volunteering at
the Kyrene Family Resource Center since she was 9.
Along with adult volunteers, she would help assemble school supplies in backpacks for the annual Stuff the Bus campaign, deliver turkeys to Kyrene’s needy families at Thanksgiving and organize and wrap gifts at the Kyrene Foundation’s Winter Wonderland each December.
Wearing her mask pulling her long brown hair into a ponytail, Amara is helping to organize and pack Remote Learning Packages for distribution to Kyrene children in need during the pandemic.
“I’m so happy to be able to go to the Family Resource Center and help out as much as I can,” she said. “They’re not able to have the usual volunteers come in because of COVID so I’m thankful I get to be here.”
Instead of stuffing school supplies into new backpacks as in former years – they will be given to children when campuses reopen – Amara has been sorting and placing donated school supplies in large see-through plastic bags.
Many of the donated school supplies were collected in donation boxes throughout the community, many of which Horton dropped off before the center’s drive began.
Then she went back to collect them, ferrying donations back to the Kyrene Resource Center located at 1330 E. Dava Drive in Tempe, located next to Kyrene de los Ninos Elementary School.
Volunteerism began for Amara when she was 9 and in third grade at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Ahwatukee.
“I was pretty young and there weren’t a lot of kids helping but I didn’t mind,” she recalled. “One of my favorite things to do was making Easter baskets for kids. We’d fill them with little toys, plastic eggs filled with candy, bubble makers. Honestly, it just made my heart happy.
“Even that young, I loved helping people. After that first event, I kept volunteering because I saw that it made a difference and brought so much joy.”
Next in her volunteering experience was wrapping gifts for the annual Kyrene Foundation’s Winter Wonderland, a festive event for district families who otherwise would not have a Christmas.
Those families are treated to holiday entertainment, refreshments and the opportunity to select presents to give to their children on Christmas. It was an event she attended every year through last December.
“I loved seeing the families at Winter Wonderland. I wrapped the presents they picked for their children,” Amara said. “It was very special to see their happy faces.”
Like others, Amara is missing the human connection and hopes the coming months will once again allow in-person interactions. She’d also like to work with other teen volunteers in real time.
“I always invited my friends to volunteer with me. It is something that colleges and clubs look at, but it’s different volunteering one time just to have colleges see it on your resume versus continuously volunteering and helping out to benefit those who are less fortunate,” she said.
In pre-pandemic days, Amara was a welcome face in the town of Guadalupe.
“We have a lot of Kyrene kids that live in the Guadalupe community and I saw a big need there. I’ve helped at Frank School and the Guadalupe Community Center that opened about a year and a half ago,” she explained.
“I’ve volunteered at events such as, Multicultural Night, Tempe Tardeada and Dia De Los Niños. I also help with the food pantry and clothing closet at their Community Center.”
Her commitment and passion for others who are less fortunate materially has not gone unnoticed.
“We need more Amara’s in this world.” said Normalicia Blanco, who runs the Family Resource Center at Frank School in Guadalupe and serves as school liaison for the Tempe Elementary School District.
Blanco, who oversees the food and clothing bank at the Guadalupe Community Center (Seewa Tomteme) where Amara volunteers, said the teen has “been a bright shining star.”
“I thank her for the labor of love she’s demonstrated to her community since middle school, and especially for those in need. She’s always been very helpful in assisting with whatever we need to do to feed the less fortunate. From sorting and preparing food boxes and organizing our clothing bank, she does it all with a smile,” said Blanco.
“During this horrific pandemic, Amara is helping with the distribution of masks to communities. She is the kind of young lady that doesn’t need attention or recognition. She’s a behind the scene kind of girl, and that to me speaks volumes.” said Blanco.
Blanco said the teen sets an example for all the younger people she interacts with as she volunteers.
Her willingness to use her gifts and abilities has great influence on the young girls and boys that follow,” she said. “I believe Amara’s excellent character and her desire will take her far in life.”
Like many high school seniors, Amara is often asked what she plans after graduating, and like many, she admits she’s not yet sure – although medical school at some point tops her list.
Whatever she does, wherever she goes, she said she’ll continue to volunteer where she can.
“My plans for the future remain up in the air; this is my senior year and I still have yet to commit to a college,” she said.
“When I do commit, I will always be looking for volunteer work – especially if I’m in a new city, I think that’s a great way to meet new people and help the community,” she said. “Volunteering has taught me the importance of giving back and helping people. I plan on going to medical school because I want to continue making a difference and helping people.”