Sepora Makabeh is a social butterfly — outgoing, talkative, friendly and approachable. But rather than using this quality to just collect friends and speak her mind, the 18-year-old senior at Milken Community High School has employed it to assist people with special needs and desperate teens seeking help.
This year, she volunteered with The Help Group, a nonprofit serving children, adolescents and young adults with special needs. Always interested in psychology, she put both her ability to communicate and interest in mental health to work by teaching children who were socially challenged or diagnosed with autism how to interact in society.
“We worked on how you respond in conversations and how you treat people,” Makabeh said. “The kids learned a lot.”
Since she was a freshman at Milken — where she is this year’s valedictorian — Makabeh also has been part of Teen Line, a confidential phone line for teenagers in need. For five hours a week, she’s on call, aiding teens dealing with abuse, suicide, depression and various mental health issues. Makabeh said she started volunteering with the organization because she’s always been a shoulder for friends to lean on.
“You know how everyone has a friend they call in the middle of the night? It’s me. I thought that if I’m doing this for friends, I want to do it for other people, too. I wanted to understand how to do it more effectively.”
Being part of the program has taught her valuable skills, Makabeh said.
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“Sometimes you don’t know what to say to people. It taught me how to react to those situations,” she said. “I feel like everyone should go through training like that. It taught me how to be an empathetic person.”
Makabeh said that she learned from her parents the importance of helping others. She applied this value yet again in high school when she became involved with Cover the Homeless Ministry, a nonprofit dedicated to getting the poor back on their feet. She and her classmates assisted the founder of the group, Rose Rios, with fundraising, setting up a business plan and delivering 4,000 toys to needy families in South Los Angeles. Through this, Makabeh said, she was able to bridge a gap between communities.
“I was inspired by this idea of leaving our bubble and going outside of our small community. We used the toy drive as a launching pad for the program. It became so much more than a chance to help people.”
Ross Mankuta, associate director of college counseling at Milken, said that Makabeh is well rounded, passionate about what she does and a hard worker.
“Everyone who knows her is better off for it. She’s a special human being,” he said.
When Makabeh goes to Washington University in St. Louis this fall, she’s going to continue to pursue psychology. One day, she wants to be a psychiatrist and change how mental health is dealt with in America.
“One of my big goals is to develop programs in school where you would have conversations about these things,” she said. “We try not to talk about suicide, bullying and cutting, but people are dealing with these issues all the time. We try to brush it off. We need to start talking about it.”