Auburn's bright light destined to make a difference
By MARK KLAAS
Auburn Reporter Regional Editor
June 17, 2012 · Updated 11:49 PM
Like many high school seniors, Richelle Orpilla will bask in the glow of graduation this weekend, celebrating the milestone with family and friends.
Then turn her attention to helping others half a world away.
In a few days the Auburn Mountainview High School senior expects to pack her bags for a three-month goodwill trip to Africa.
She wasn't about to pass up on this daunting, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. She just wants to make a difference in the lives of others.
Orpilla, a standout student-athlete in high school, picks up her diploma Saturday, and Tuesday departs for Dakar, Senegal. Once there, she will perform outreach work in the largely impoverished West African nation as an executive assistant intern for Africare. The large, non-governmental organization has long been committed to improving the lives of Africans, focusing on health care, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, access to water, agriculture and food security.
Orpilla means to do her part. She will be directly supporting Gwen Young, the country director of Africare in Dakar. She will be engaged in field projects, planning and administrative work.
She has never been out of the country on such an extended trip. She plans to return Sept. 12 in time to begin her studies at Green River Community College.
"There's not many 18-year-olds here who go to Africa," Orpilla said of the opportunity. "Africa is an experience, an opportunity that I'm going to take advantage of. I want to make a difference helping people down there."
Orpilla's mission comes from the heart. Her dream is to become a nurse practitioner.
She also has an interest in the law, having worked since January as a part-time assistant for Eric John Makus' legal practice.
It was Makus who encouraged Orpilla to take her trip of a lifetime. His practice will help cover costs of the trip.
"Richelle Orpilla loves life and has a contagious optimism to make a difference in the lives of others," said Makus, an attorney for Seattle-based Makus Law PS. "She is a determined, natural leader, a fresh graduate who has a departure for destiny.
"We can celebrate that one of our best and brightest is off to make a better world," he said. "Cities once had favorite sons. Auburn, now, has a favorite daughter – in Senegal, Africa."
Orpilla draws encouragement and inspiration from her close-knit family. Her single mother, Myrna Carlos, raised Orpilla and her brother and sister while holding down a job at the Fairmont Hotel in Seattle. The father left the family when Orpilla was a baby.
Orpilla guesses the last time she saw her father was when she was in the fifth grade. He periodically stays in touch with the family but remains a distant voice.
In challenging times, Orpilla's mom always emphasized the importance of values, leadership and education.
"She's a hard-working woman," Orpilla said.
At Auburn Mountainview, Orpilla flourished in and out of the classroom. She ran cross country, played basketball and volleyball and broke the school's 800-meter record with a time of 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
She plans to run at GRCC.
Orpilla is ready to take on her next challenge, far away from her Auburn home.
"(My family is) excited for me," she said. "At first, I was iffy about it, but then they explained to me that this is an opportunity that many kids my age don't have, and that I should grasp onto it.
"This will open a few doors for me."Contact Auburn Reporter Regional Editor Mark Klaas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-253-833-0218 (ext 5050).