Ponte Vedra student devotes 100 hours to tutoring refugee children

One of four chosen for Bank of America Student Leader program

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Roberto Lachner knows what it’s like to find himself in a new country, learning to navigate a new culture at a young age. The Ponte Vedra High School student came to the United States from Costa Rica when he was 6 years old.

So, a few years ago, when an opportunity arose to help immigrant children facing those same challenges, he readily volunteered.

Since then, he has devoted more than 100 hours to mentoring and tutoring refugee children and youths as part of JaxTHRIVE, a local nonprofit that helps these students succeed in the classroom and flourish in the community.

“They’re in a new place, and everything’s unfamiliar to them, so I like being able to create at least some comfort or friendship for them,” he said.

Roberto’s commitment has not gone unnoticed. This summer, he was selected for a paid, eight-week internship with a local nonprofit as one of four Student Leaders in Jacksonville by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

The program, launched in 2004, is open to rising juniors and seniors. According to Martha Barrett, vice president of market development for Bank of America in Jacksonville, the foundation receives about 50 applications a year from St. Johns, Duval, Nassau and Clay counties.

The field of applicants is ultimately whittled down to four who then go on to an internship with Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that works with schools to help at-risk students stay in school and perform well.

Joining Roberto this summer is Manas Adepu, who attends Allen D. Nease High School and, as the youth president of the Rural Library Foundation — which builds libraries in India — has managed media and created a website for that nonprofit, started a digital donation service, managed a newsletter and more. The two other Student Leaders this year are Jessica Malosh of Stanton College Preparatory School and Daisy Valdivia of Sandalwood High School, both in Duval County.

Through the internship, Student Leaders learn about the vital role nonprofits play in advancing community health, the importance of public-private partnerships to advance social change and a focus on building financial acumen.

Starting June 24, Roberto worked as a counselor at a summer camp for children. The camp, funded by Communities in Schools, provides the children with two meals a day and opportunities to have fun with friends and learn things along the way.

Roberto said the experience taught him not just how to be a good leader, but also how to be a good follower. It also instilled a lot of work ethic experience that he said he probably would not have gotten elsewhere.

“I think this is a life-changing experience,” said Barrett. She said past Student Leaders have written the foundation, grateful for what they cite as their first leadership opportunity.

One of the foundation’s past Student Leaders was Chase Magnano, founder of JaxTHRIVE. He was recognized in 2019, the same year Roberto got involved.

In addition to his volunteering, Roberto has been involved with his school’s newspaper and SAT prep tutoring and has been a piano teacher and team captain of the HighQ quiz team.

Looking ahead, Roberto is keeping his options open. He is applying to colleges but not yet committing to a major because, as he said, “There’s not really any field I would be unhappy in. I’m one of those people who, at school, likes every subject.”

Whatever career path he chooses, however, he wants to contribute to the world.

“One of the things I want to do with my life after high school is just leave the planet, the world as a whole, a better place than I found it,” he said.

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