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Boardman impacts exchange student's philanthropic efforts

September 22, 2011
By Kathleen Palumbo
Sharing that she spent an amazing year in the United States where she was grateful for the opportunity to attend Boardman High School during the 2009-2010 school year, Nalisha Men, or Mena, said she returned home knowing that the experiences she had and things she learned in Ohio were never a coincidence.

Traveling with the AYA Exchange Program, Mena was hosted by Jim and Laurie Antunez of Boardman, and returned to China with a sense of social responsibility to one's community and to the world.

Continuing, Mena she said she appreciates the opportunity she had to participate in the Key and Interact Clubs, and the connection they provided to Kiwanis and Rotary.

"Coming from a city with the largest population in China," Mena said while here she experienced the closeness of community and developed a strong sense of social responsibility.

As an exchange student, Mena said getting to know other club members, exchanging world views, learning what programs they were concerned with, and planning projects for the community had a great impact on her. "I decided I wanted to bring this American spirit of caring and community involvement back to Beijing," she said.

As she said former Canfield Rotary President Sieglinde Warren had suggested to her, upon her return home, Mena attended her first Beijing Rotaract Club meeting, and has since volunteered at events and helped create ways for local youth to get involved. She said she realized that she could be part of the change she wanted to see to raise the social awareness in her community and provide support to those who are in great need.

"Personally, I enjoyed each and every one of my 14 months," in the United States and put my energy and passion into each day, she said, adding that she lived her life, discovering another side of herself, but most importantly, embracing and treasuring everything life brought her.

"I am eternally grateful for this experience, and especially for the many people who made my life a wonderland," said Mena.

Thanks to Facebook and Skype, Mena said she never lost the connection to family and friends in Boardman.

"I love the opportunity it provides to stay in touch with all my friends and share the beauty found in my everyday life here in Beijing through my writing, photography and artwork," said Mena, who also invites others to visit her blog at

Frequently viewing a scrapbook she made of her time here, Mena said she was inspired with an idea when reading the encouraging words of her friends and teachers to keep smiling, coupled with the words "I will always remember you and your smile" written in a letter by Mary Ellen Ivan, a very close family friend from Poland whom she now calls "Grandma."

Volunteering for China as a student leader for Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization, Mena is trying to raise funds and in a sense, passing on her smile to change a life.

According to its website, Operation Smile mobilizes a world of generous hearts to heal children's smiles and transform lives across the globe, through its network of volunteers who work worldwide to repair childhood facial deformities including cleft lips and cleft palates.

Mena said her commitment to Operation Smile is a form of gratitude towards everyone she met in the United States, as well as her exchange student friends, whom she reminds to pass around love and cherish life with gratitude.

One cleft-lip operation in China costs $240, according to Mena, who said she accordingly set her first goal as $240. Currently, she has 79 percent of that goal left to meet before Nov. 15.

To make a donation, visit the direct link to Mena's Operation Smile cause at

Mena thanks donors in advance for helping her to help children who will one day have the opportunity to express their joy with a smile.

Article Photos

Photo special to the Town Crier
Nalisha Men, pictured in yellow on her Operation Smile poster, encourages donations to the cause in the hopes that all children will one day be able to express their joy with a smile. Visit Mena's link to 'Operation Smile,' at



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