Following the Heart: An APH Senior’s Journey to Making an Impact

Lila C., class of ‘20 and a member of the first cohort to complete all four years of high school at Penguin Hall, shares how one life-changing summer and the APH community has helped form her vision for the future.

I have had a lot of ambitious ideas and goals during my life. When I was four years old, I wanted to learn to play the violin. When I was eight years old, I set my goal of someday becoming the captain of my high school basketball team. At 14, I wanted more for my education than my town’s public school. I left my friends and my town’s school system to be a trailblazer. I was the first in my family in four generations not to attend Swampscott High School. I took a risk on a new school that had no legacy and no reputation. I made a brave choice to be part of something new.

This coming spring, I will graduate from The Academy at Penguin Hall as a member of the first class to attend all four years. Four years ago, when I first toured the school, I knew it was the place for me. At this new school, I knew my opinion would matter. I have had a voice in shaping almost every part of the student experience, including extracurriculars offered, the creation of new school traditions, and how students’ everyday lives reflect the culture of kindness, an integral part of Penguin Hall’s foundation. 

In 2016, when Penguin Hall’s doors opened for the first day of school, I was there to walk through them. I started high school with 58 other girls, 13 faculty members, and a handful of administrators. Together, we created a community that has evolved but remained strong four years later. Through attending Penguin Hall, I can proudly say I have accomplished many of my goals, but I have also set new goals for myself. 

During freshman year, I started the Mock Trial team, which has continuously gone to competitions throughout the past four years. Our most notable competition was in 2018 when we beat Bishop Fenwick. When I was 16, I wanted to lobby for positive Israeli-American political relations. I found a way through AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to meet with my congressional representative in Washington DC. In my sophomore year, I attended a Captain’s Conference and by junior year I became one of the basketball team’s captains. At 17, I ran for a regional position in my youth group, ultimately winning and serving on the board for a region of 300+ teens throughout New England. As I have gotten older and wiser, my ideas have gotten bigger and more elaborate. Having the support system at Penguin Hall has pushed me to accomplish more. My ideas are larger than life, and my best one yet is about saving a life. 

The summer of 2018 was life-changing. I was 5,464 miles away from home on a summer camp trip to Israel. We visited Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), an organization that provides free, life-saving heart surgeries to children from third-world countries. After hearing the organization’s mission — “Politics are politics, but a kid’s a kid, and every one of them deserves a chance at life” — I immediately texted my mom that I would raise $15,000. I planned to sponsor a surgery.

Lila C. '20 with two friends at Save a Child's Heart in Israel

Lila with two friends at SACH in Israel

Upon returning from Israel, I set out to raise $15,000. I told myself I would not be the girl knocking on doors for donations. I wanted to make it more personal. I sold homemade jewelry and brownies. I serenaded local grocery shoppers with my violin under a handmade sign stating all donations support SACH. Shoppers generously filled my violin case with donations.

One of my most profitable fundraisers came from meeting one of the powerful women that came to speak to our school —Amy Latimer, President of TD Garden, visited in 2018 and spoke to us about women in sports. I emailed Ms. Latimer about my goal to save a child and asked if she could help. She quickly offered four Celtics tickets, each worth over $150. I raffled them off and raised hundreds of dollars. 

Even with all the fundraising, I knew I still needed to do more; I needed to go back to SACH and create connections with the children during their recovery. 

In August 2019, I boarded a plane for Ben Gurion Airport with a suitcase, my violin, and a hot pink backpack filled with toys for the children. I handled switching planes, passing through customs, getting taxis, and navigating to a town outside Tel Aviv all by myself!

During my two weeks at SACH, I met kids from across the globe. None of us spoke the same language, but we turned building blocks into castles and coloring pages into masterpieces. I played violin for them and learned that what people say is true: music truly is the universal language. I showed them kindness and respect. In return, they played with me, danced to my music, and taught me words in their languages. 

I was drawn to meeting children from all over the world to help them not just survive, but thrive. Never did I think I would see similarities between myself, a Jewish girl from the northeast coast of Massachusetts, and these children from disadvantaged, rural villages worldwide who are in need of heart treatment.

When I was four, I too needed life-saving surgery. I suffered pneumonia and pleural effusion, a potentially life-threatening condition. Luckily, we live near Boston, home to world-class hospitals. I was fortunate to have doctors that knew how to perform the surgery I needed and to install the chest tubes vital to my survival and recovery. My experience starkly contrasts with the experiences of the children SACH treats, as some are from countries where there is not even a single pediatric cardiac surgeon. 

I can now proudly say that I am more than halfway to my goal of $15,000. My hope is to raise the money before I graduate high school. After high school, and because of this project, I now know what I want to study in college and further pursue throughout life. I plan on going into International Studies with the hopes of working towards bringing medical access worldwide. 

Lila’s Personal Donations Page