Arden Pala has spent countless hours volunteering, founded his own nonprofit, and wrote three children’s books that benefit various charities. He has also spearheaded efforts to fill “bags of hope” for the homeless here in San Diego and for children affected by the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey earlier this year—and he’s only 14.
It all started when Arden was just eight-years-old. His philanthropic spirit was sparked when his parents introduced him to volunteering, serving meals at Interfaith Community Services. The stories he heard from the people he served made an impact on the youngster, and when combined with the support he got from his family, inspired him to do more. He began reading to kids at a school in Barrio Logan and then found another way to help.
“After I read to some of the students, the principal was walking me and my mom out, and he mentioned that the school didn’t really have an athletics program. He said he was open to anybody who wanted to jump in and help with the kids after school and I thought that was a great opportunity for me to help the community,” he says.
That conversation paved the way for then 11-year-old Arden to launch his nonprofit, Sports4Kids which provides opportunities for youth from low-income families to play sports and beef up their social skills. Arden’s nonprofit also works with other local organizations to host community events and get kids involved in volunteering.
“It started with just me coming after school Wednesdays and coaching four or five different kids,” he says. “But it grew to something bigger, and we moved to different schools and now we coach over 120 kids every single week.”
Sports4Kids has garnered the attention of some nonprofit bigwigs around town and counts Lucky Duck Foundation CEO Drew Moser, Interfaith Community Services CEO Greg Anglea, and Michael Brunker, former executive director of the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA, as advisors. It also has three coaches, volunteers from area high schools who act as assistant coaches, and Arden’s mom, Zeynep Ilgaz, who helps identify grant opportunities.
The boy wonder of San Diego philanthropy has no plans of slowing down any time soon. All while keeping up with school and his hobbies, basketball, guitar, and ukulele, he plans to expand Sports4Kids to a new elementary school and is exploring the possibility of hosting a back-to-school event to assemble “bags of hope” with school supplies for needy kids.
“I’ve grown accustomed to giving back and after I volunteer, I get this good feeling inside and that good feeling motivates me to do more,” says Arden.