Jessica Kianmahd had a lot on her plate a year ago, between volunteering as a Big Sister, involvement in her high school’s social activist group and various musical pursuits.
But when a relative was diagnosed with cancer, the Milken High School senior, who says she is “very, very close with [her] family,” realized she would have to challenge herself even more in order to provide the level of family support she felt was needed.
Terrified of blood since the seventh grade, Kianmahd decided to confront her fear by interning at Providence Tarzana Hospital. By conquering her phobia, she says, she was able to provide a more supportive ear and to understand what her family was going through.
She also learned the value of personal determination, and it’s a lesson she infuses into her myriad volunteer activities.
Kianmahd begins each week by volunteering on Sundays as a teacher’s aide for the third-graders at Sinai Temple Religious School. On Wednesdays, as volunteers for Friendship Circle, she and her younger sister, Rebecca, 11, visit a young woman with special needs. “It’s part of the idea of giving back,” she said. “We dance with her, take walks with her — she knows we’re friends that she can always trust and rely on.”
A child of Iranian immigrants, Kianmahd was also recently named a Fellow at the Museum of Tolerance, where she had the opportunity to connect with other young people across Los Angeles whose parents are originally from other parts of the world.
“When I spoke to one of the students at Roosevelt High,” she said, “one of the things we clicked on was my parents came from Iran and made a life for themselves here, and she said the same about her parents coming from Mexico.”
Kianmahd was so moved by the experience that, along with other young community leaders, she organized an event at the UCLA Hillel that brought together Jewish and Latino cultures through food, dance and community.
Crediting her parents and school for encouraging her to pursue all her passions, Kianmahd, who will attend UCLA in the fall, cites a Hebrew word that defines her constant observation of and participation in the world around her: “The word is hineni,” she says. “It means, ‘I am here; I am present.’ ”