Using Her Experience to Help Others
by Donna Childs
Mekdes Hilete came to Portland from Ethiopia two years ago, at age 14. Despite all the complexities of a new country, with a new language, culture, habits, assumptions, expectations, Mekdes has handled the difficult transition with grace, making it appear deceptively easy.
Almost as soon as she arrived here, Mekdes became involved with Multnomah County Library. After volunteering in the Summer Reading and summer lunch programs at the Belmont and Midland libraries, she began taking on multiple roles at her home library, North Portland. She began as a computer lab assistant, helping patrons with such tasks as accessing the internet and setting up email and Facebook accounts. Recently, she also became a branch assistant, and has applied to join the new Teen Council at North Portland.
When Mekdes enrolled at Jefferson High School, as a freshman, she discovered the school’s relationship with Portland Community College allowing juniors and seniors, and even qualified sophomores, to take courses at PCC for dual high school/college credit. Despite being here only a year, Mekdes applied, was accepted, and began earning genuine college credit as a high school sophomore. She also participated in Jefferson’s Mock Trial team, which made it to the state competition last year. She has joined Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest, where she helps plan events and raise funds to empower girls to be leaders. Her participation in college classes, and in such challenging extracurricular activities, only months after leaving Ethiopia underscores Mekdes’ courage and her nimble brain, as well as her strong facility with English.
Although she jokes that most of her days revolve within the triangle of the library, Jefferson, and PCC, she ventures out to volunteer as a guide at OHSU, helping patients and visitors find their destinations. She credits an interest in pursuing a medical career, perhaps in family medicine, as a reason for choosing OHSU. But it also fits with a clear pattern of helping others navigate strange situations, which is evident in Mekdes’ choices. Rather than being overwhelmed by the newness of everything here, she has jumped in, using her experience of dealing with unknown environments to help others in new situations.
A few facts about Mekdes
Home library: North Portland
Currently reading: Perfect Is Boring by Tyra and her Mama
Most influential book: The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Book that made you cry: Reading Paper Towns made me want to cry. The Diary of Anne Frank made me want to cry. I Am Malala made me cry.
Favorite section of the library: the window seat at the North Portland Library
E-reader or paper? paper books
Favorite place to read: in my room, on my bed
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