ST. HELENS JUNIOR ELEVATES YOUTH VOICES
Always on a mission to elevate student voices at her school, Mackenzie Peña, a junior at St. Helens High School, is actively involved in the community.
Peña, who has lived in St. Helens her entire life, said her goal at the high school is to give fellow students a “safe place” and a safe person to talk to. Peña also believes strongly in not judging people for who they are.
Peña helped restart Latinos Unidos at St. Helens High, serving as its co-president.
“We wanted to create a safe place for Latinos or any other people of color at St. Helens High School, considering it’s a predominately white school,” Peña said. “We feel we wanted to create a place for people to feel safe and talk about their experiences, or just be safe together.”
Noting that several students have joined Latinos Unidos since she got it going, Peña continued, “I know there are a lot of Latinos who have not joined, but we don’t push them to do anything.”
Peña explained how she restarted the Latino club in her freshman year.
“It was my cousin and my stepsister that had started this club,” Peña said. “Then COVID happened, and one or two years passed. Then I noticed that racial encounters at school had been getting pretty heavy, and I wanted to restart it.”
Peña also takes part in the REAP Solution program.
REAP is a multicultural student-led leadership program that helps people find their voices to open up opportunities for themselves in the future. The program is open to students from all backgrounds and cultures.
“I am not going to say I’m the leader of it, but I have been involved with it ever since they came to our school,” Peña said.
Even before arriving at St. Helens High School, Pena felt a passion for helping the community.
“When I was little, I really wanted to be a translator, from Spanish to English, or English to Spanish,” said Peña, whose parents are immigrants from Mexico. “I noticed a lot of my family has always had trouble with that. I am Hispanic and when I was little, I thought it was my passion. I wanted to be able to help the community. I guess I’ve always kind of been like that.”
After high school, Peña hopes to go to a four-year university in Idaho, perhaps Boise.
“I do want to go into some form of enterprising, somewhere where I can work with people,” Peña said, noting she would like to look into careers such as counseling or social work: “Something where I can work with people and help them at the same time.”
Peña’s involvement in these groups helps her meet new people.
“I don’t shy away from people very often,” she said.