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Teen-ager finds enrichment in helping the less-fortunate

Cancun is not on Alana Miller’s short list of dream spring break destinations. The junior at La Jolla High School and her friend, Chantal Nobel, have asked their parents to allow them to go to Indonesia to help with the aftermath of the tsunami.

The founder of The Little Place, the charity shop where Miller volunteers, just returned from Indonesia and says more manpower is needed.

“She was cleaning bodies out of the street,” Miller said, “but I imagine that will be done by then. And so they need volunteers to distribute food and listen to trauma victims.”

While the circumstances of the tsunami are extraordinary, Miller’s desire to give her time and energy is not. The 17-year-old has great compassion for others and a long history of activism.

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She is the co-president of Students Making a Change, a club at La Jolla High that she started this year after discussing the idea with friend Joey Belskey.

“We’ve been in clubs in high school that hadn’t really been doing a lot,” she said, “so we wanted to start another club.”

Belskey started a club at Torrey Pines High School to support The Stove Project, an initiative through Help International that replaces open fires with cinderblock stoves in the homes of Guatemalan villages. The club Miller founded helps raise money for stoves by selling cupcakes.

Students Making a Change also collaborated with the Clean Campus Club and Volunteers in Action to implement a recycling program on the campus of La Jolla High.

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Miller independently arranged for the Southern California Peace Corps representative to speak at her high school to show students another option after high school besides college.

Alana Miller’s mother, Lee, explained it was a struggle to get the speaker approved by the school and, doubting it would happen, she told her daughter that some things just don’t work out.

“But she was so tenacious and so motivated,” Lee Miller said. "(The representative) thought she was an administrator.”

Most Saturday mornings, Alana Miller teaches English in Tijuana to children ranging from 7 to 18 years old. Despite having to leave La Jolla Shores at 7:45 a.m., she said it’s a fun and rewarding experience.

“They bring their moms and their little sisters,” she said. “They’re all enthusiastic, and they’re there because they want to learn. And it’s free.”

Miller enjoys protesting. Despite the risk of suspension, she and 15 other students walked out of school to protest the start of the Iraq War. On Jan. 20, she passed out leaflets for Buy Nothing Day at Horton Plaza and then banged pots and pans in an anti-Bush march.

Somewhere in her packed schedule, Miller also manages to maintain more than a 4.0 grade point average in school.

“I would rather just spend all my time protesting and doing volunteer work,” she said, “but I realize that’s not reasonable.”

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Miller attributes her worldly awareness to extensive traveling. As a young child, her mother took her around the world, traveling by bus and sleeping under thatched roofs. Her passport contains fresh ink from Egypt, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore.

“I love other cultures,” she said. “It’s just so interesting to hear other people and see their religion and how they live.”

Last summer, Miller traveled in Cuba for 10 days with La Jolla High School. She was particularly struck by the culturally rich, but economically poor, country.

“They can’t leave their country, they don’t have any food, they don’t have any resources, their buildings are falling apart, but everyone is just so incredibly happy and they are so thankful for whatever you can give them,” she said. “It was amazing to see how people can persevere through anything, and they really just look at the good things in life.”

With such an appreciation for other cultures, Miller said it is hard to constantly be around people her own age