Palmer Trinity High School junior Christina Santilli has accumulated more than 200 hours of community service, many earned by attending two mission trips to Nicaragua. On those trips, Santilli helped build homes for needy families.
“It was a great opportunity; I learned so much from it,” Santilli says. “It opened my eyes to what I have. I’m actually going again this year and hopefully in my senior year, too.”
During the week-long mission trip, the students work on the home they are building and interact with the family that who will reside in the house.
“We play with the kids,” she says. “They share their stories with us.”
The mission trip includes a visit to the infamous Nicaraguan Dump, where there is an elementary school. There, the Palmer students serve lunch to the children who attend the school.
“You see all kinds of people who don’t have clothes,” Santilli says. “They are eating out of the garbage, it smells and there are flies all over the place. I realize how fortunate I am because these people have nothing and yet they are so happy.”
Santilli says what she saw made a huge impression.
“I remember that I had seen poverty on TV,” she says. “But it was only when I went there that it affected me and made me more aware.”
Santilli says the mission trips are very important to her and that she wanted to go on one as early as when she was in the eighth grade. However, she was too young and wasn’t allowed to go on a mission until she was in the ninth grade.
“I like helping out people,” she says. “I’m so fortunate; I want to give back.”
Santilli does not limit her good works to Nicaragua. Through a school club, she also volunteers at a homeless shelter and helps the children with their arts and crafts, making greeting cards and other holiday-specific items.
“And we’ll bring candy for them or little gifts,” she says. “I like hanging out with the kids and getting to learn a little more about them and about where they’re from and what they’ve gone through.”
She is also involved with Operation Smile. The club raises money to help fund surgeries for children who have cleft lip. Santilli has been involved with the club since she was in the ninth grade. The club has been so successful that they’ve raised enough money for 75 surgeries.
Santilli is also in Junior Statesman of America, a student-run debate club.
“We debate about political issues,” she says. “We have three to four conventions every year.”
The conventions are held in Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando and students from across the state are involved.
“Every time I go to a convention, I sign up for one to two debates,” she says. “I won two debates in 2009-10. One was about health care.”
When not debating or volunteering, Santilli plays lacrosse. She’s been playing the spring sport since she was in the eighth grade. She is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We’ve lost a couple of seniors from last year, but I think we’ll still do well because we have good coaches,” she says.
Outside of school, Santilli recently took up fencing, which is offered at the Pinecrest Community Center.
“I just wanted to try something new because I’m open to new stuff,” she says. “I ended up really enjoying it.”