Three St. Margaret’s Upper School students recently completed a yearlong service-learning project, which culminated with the installation of 25 exterior LED lights around San Juan Elementary School in downtown San Juan Capistrano.
Seniors Gabriela Sanchez, Italivi Diaz and Ulises Ramirez Ruiz worked extensively on the project over the past year, after being awarded a $5,000 community service grant through the Dragon Kim Foundation. The lights were recently installed and a ceremony to celebrate the project took place this week at San Juan Elementary, with San Juan Capistrano Mayor John Taylor, San Juan Capistrano Councilmember Howard Hart, St. Margaret’s Head of School Will Moseley, St. Margaret’s Director of Equity and Inclusion Victor Cota, and Dragon Kim Foundation co-founders Daniel Kim and Grace Kim in attendance, among others.
“It’s amazing that after what’s been a yearlong process, we’re finally here with the lights, seeing everything completed,” Italivi said at the ceremony.
The project started with an idea. Ulises noticed that San Juan Elementary was inadequately lit up at night due to outdated exterior lighting. Knowing that brighter lighting was linked to security and safety, Ulises, Gabriela and Italivi applied for a grant with the Dragon Kim Foundation for what they titled “Project Illuminate Our Lives.” They learned about the Dragon Kim Foundation through Breakthrough SJC, a St. Margaret’s community program that provides academic enrichment, mentoring and college counseling guidance for students from underrepresented backgrounds.
The three were awarded the grant last March in what was supposed to be a summertime project. The challenges of the pandemic slowed the process down, but the three students diligently worked with their Dragon Kim Foundation mentor as well as the Capistrano Unified School District and San Juan Elementary Principal Carrie Bertini to see their vision through to the finish line.
“Gabriela, Italivi and Ulises are embodiments of our mission to pursue lives of leadership and service,” Mr. Moseley said. “We are very proud of their efforts in serving the San Juan Capistrano community, and we know this is a lasting experience that will guide them throughout their lives and the many great things they will do in the future.”
San Juan Elementary is an Orange County Historical Site, located across the street from Mission San Juan Capistrano. The 25 lights are installed on the exterior of the school building, and are LED fixtures that replaced the aging, yellowing lights the school had in place.
“Light is one of those things that we don’t always take into consideration,” Ulises said. “However, being present where there’s light can make a dramatic difference.”
The Dragon Kim Foundation’s
mission is to give children, regardless of socio-economic background, opportunities to pursue what they enjoy, and in the process, make positive changes in their community. Dragon Kim Foundation fellows receive weekly mentoring, business training and seed funding to launch their vision.
“A life of service is a really great life,” Mayor Taylor told the students at the ceremony. “You can feel that here today. … I honor you and thank you for this project. Well done.”