CALDWELL — Teenager Nick Mendez has more on his mind than prom and football — his mission is to serve and create an inclusive community.
As he roams the halls of Caldwell High School during any given school day, Mendez carries a packet of “Everyday Achievement Award” certificates that he bought from a local shop. When he sees a classmate doing something commendable — picking up trash, helping a friend with homework, being courteous to teachers and school staff — he fills out a card with the student’s name and gives it to them.
The certificates are a “tiny, but simple” way of showing appreciation and helping everyone in school feel welcome, he says.
But Mendez also takes on the not-so-tiny, not-so-simple opportunities to serve and include others.
The sophomore sits on the state superintendent’s Student Advisory Council and the Caldwell Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. He mentors younger students at Syringa Middle School, and is learning sign language so he can make assemblies and meetings more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
He’s also Caldwell’s sophomore class president.
The teenager’s favorite part of student government is getting to organize Cause Week, a weeklong competition to raise money for charity. Students spend hours rocking in chairs for donations, and compete at collecting pennies.
Mendez says he likes to see students get excited and competitive for a good cause without tearing each other down. Helping others, according to Mendez, is the best way to create community.
And during last year’s Cause Week, Mendez says a conversation solidified the ‘why’ behind his desire to give back.
While collecting pennies for the school’s ‘penny wars,’ Mendez’s father told the teenager how happy he was to be able to donate them. At a different time in his life, he said, he would have been using the pennies to scrimp for groceries or rent payments.
Both of Mendez’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico — something he doesn’t take for granted. His mom now works as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant and his dad installs drywall and flooring.
“It was not an easy process for them to immigrate here and raise two kids,” Mendez said. “(My parents) showed me you have to put yourself out there so you’re able to not only support yourself, but serve others. I know people helped my dad, and without that, he wouldn’t be able to help others now. That’s what I want to do for people.”
Mendez is passionate about inclusivity in the Caldwell School District — one of the most diverse districts in the state.
He and his fellow student government officials presented on culture and diversity in leadership at the Idaho Association of Student Councils’ annual convention. The students focused on the value a diverse set of voices can bring to student government, or any decision making body.
When people from different backgrounds come together to make decisions, said Mendez, they create the most robust solutions.
Joshua Engler is the educational specialist for TRIO Upward Bound at Caldwell High, a program designed to help disadvantaged students prepare for college. He’s worked with Mendez since he was a freshman, and says his impact is noticeable.
“I appreciate the intentionality with which he approaches things,” said Engler. “He has a natural curiosity for learning that I haven’t seen in a lot of other students, and he’s very thoughtful and considerate of other people. He helps support members of the school community feel seen and heard and appreciated.”
Mendez’s appetite for learning is clear when he talks about his future — he wants to soak up as much knowledge as he can.
The high schooler is set on going to college, and wants to extend his education to pursue a doctorate. A member of his school’s STEAM Club and robotics program, Mendez says he wants to study environmental or aeronautical engineering. Ultimately, he wants to find a way to study both, either through a double major or multiple minors.
And to help him hang onto his leadership skills and possibly effect policy decisions, the teenager also wants to pursue law or international relations.
Melyssa Ferro, Mendez’s middle school science teacher, says she’s excited to see where he lands after high school.
“He has a heart of service, he’s always looking out for what he can do for Caldwell” she said. “I feel really honored to have been able to work with him.”