Galt’s Community of Character Coalition (GCCC) chose Jacob Mengahas as their recipient of the Caring & Compassion Award for his contributions to homeless teens in Sacramento County. Mengahas accepted his award at the March 12 Galt Joint Union High School District trustees’ monthly meeting after being nominated by his teacher Melodee McCarthy. The Liberty Ranch High School senior assembled care packages for homeless teens filled with hygiene products and small notes of encouragement as his senior project. His project was sponsored by the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE).

Former mayor Barbara Payne said the choice was easily made.

“Even though his lack of normal mobility could have made him think that he could not help others, he found a way to contribute to the community,” Payne said. “He demonstrated sensitivity to the feelings and needs of his peers who were in a difficult situation and gave them not only needed supplies, but words of encouragement.”

The senior chose quotes from people such as Charlie Chaplin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

“I felt these quotes would make them feel good and lift them up,” Mengahas said.

His notes included, “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world not even our troubles” from Charlie Chaplin; “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts,” from Eleanor Roosevelt and “Don’t let your struggle become your identity,” author unknown.

Mengahas’ road in life has also been difficult. According to his mother Jeanette Mengahas, at the age of 10, Jacob was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor, which left him with deficits in mobility, cognition, vision and hearing.

Mengahas said it made him feel good to help others.

“I was very surprised when I was nominated for the character award,” Mengahas said. “I did not expect any recognition. I was just hoping to at least brighten one person’s day. I really appreciate everything.”

The high school senior is planning on continuing his education at Cosumnes River College where he’ll take classes in video production and editing. He reflected on his thoughts while working on the senior project.

“I cannot really identify with being homeless but I understand what it is like to struggle and to be down,” Jacob said. “I have spent long days and nights in the hospital away from most of my family. It was hard to stay positive. Sometimes just even a small gesture would build me up and keep me moving forward and I got through it. I hope the same for my peers who are homeless, I hope that they can keep positive and their situation can change.”

Principal Joe Saramago said Jacob is a pleasure to have on campus.

“We are so proud of Jacob, he is an outstanding example of what Liberty Ranch High School is about,” Saramago said. “It is our mission at Liberty Ranch High School to provide educational opportunities in a safe, positive learning environment for all students empowering them to reach their full potential as productive, responsible citizens. Jacob is a great example of this!”

Below is the nomination letter sent to the GCCC by McCarthy:

“I would like to nominate Jacob Mangahas for The Character Committee. Jacob is an outstanding student at Liberty Ranch High School in the GJUHSD.

“As part of the Senior Community Service Project, Jacob decided to do something for the Homeless Teens in Sacramento County.  As you can see by his project research paper, he includes the staggering statistics of the real challenges of teens who face homelessness in Sacramento County.

“Some of those teens are attending Galt High and Liberty Ranch.  You may not see them out on the streets every night but they are crashing on a friend’s couch or shuttling from one extended family to another, just to continue going to school in the GJUHSD. 

“Jacob is no stranger to struggles, he faced down cancer at a young age and won his battle. It has left him with some mobility challenges but it won’t be the first thing you notice when you meet him it will be his smile. Jacob is an absolute pleasure to work with, so much so that with every educational meeting, his amazing teachers have nothing but high praises for him. Jacob has a great sense of humor and easygoing affect.

“He is a real pleasure to work with.

“In assisting Jacob to plan his Community Service Project it was no real leap for him to jump at the chance to help other teens who have faced real challenges as he has. Jacob is a real model of integrity and hard work.

“He decided to work with the Sacramento County Office of Education in their Project Teach program for homeless teens. 

“One of the real challenges for homeless teens is that they rarely

know where they will be from one night to the next, and they can’t really carry much with them. Jacob decided to collect hygiene materials, small enough to carry with them when they are on the move. He put the necessities of soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, wipes, shampoo and conditioner, comb, socks, gloves, etc. in small bags. Jacob felt, ‘having products and getting clean could make them feel better about themselves and possibly rise up to self-sufficiency to get them out of their homeless situation.’  “One character trait of Jacob’s is his positive outlook and nature.  It is not surprising that he wrote a unique and different positive note or quote to go in each bag. Jacob can actually model for others like himself what it feels like to overcome real struggles, although his wasn’t homelessness. Jacob knows how much it means to have someone give you a little encouragement in a note, and in this case a small bag of supplies, to keep you going, even if they don’t know who you are. It is finding one small solution rather than looking the other way.

“We can all make a difference in the world if we look for an opportunity, for some of us it is one small bag at a time with a little encouragement thrown in.”