The service bug bit Los Altos resident Hannah Hansen in middle school.
Hansen, a recent high school graduate who now attends Brigham Young University, volunteered at a number of local philanthropies through the National Charity League, a mother-daughter service organization. At the Ronald McDonald House, she organized birthday parties for sick patients and their families, which whetted her appetite for further service work with children.
More recently, Hansen has volunteered with Girls on the Run, a physical activity-based development program for girls in third to sixth grades. As a running coach, she regularly taught lessons about health and self-esteem. Approximately twice a week, Hansen helped train the girls for a 5K race held every May.
“The media is not always kind to girls,” she said. “It is important for them to develop positive thinking.”
This year Hansen volunteered at the nonprofit Abilities United, a place where developmentally disabled children and adults learn skills that help them integrate into society. She worked with young people in an after-school program, helping those with Down syndrome or on the autism spectrum.
“It was probably the first time that I came in direct contact with autistic children,” she said.
Hansen didn’t stop there – she made a documentary film addressing special-needs youth. She and classmate Nikki Kashani produced the film, “The Path to Integration.” It was shown at the Palo Alto International Film Festival and the Bay Area Social Issues Documentary Film Contest in San Jose, which awarded them second place.
“Babies and toddlers generally have early-intervention programs, but nobody hears about teens and preteens,” she said. “You really see a lot of people 8 to 19 with special needs. They are our peers and I can relate to them. They are the lost demographic.”
Trained staff members and volunteers work with the youth, but funding to hire skilled professionals is an ongoing challenge.
“If budgets are cut, then certain programs can no longer be offered and there is danger of a child regressing,” she said.
When she is not occupied with service or schoolwork, Hansen enjoys playing the piano and violin. At BYU, she plans to pursue her passions of film, photography and communications – and service.