Teen has big visions for helping poor

Sitting in her expansive Newport Coast home, Isabel Bellino acknowledges that she's had an exceptionally fortunate life.

The 16-year-old understands that not everyone her age is awarded such opportunities. However, she refuses to sit contentedly and watch others struggle.

For the past two years, Isabel has been raising money for Orangewood Children's Foundation through her club Spare Change for Change. To date, she's raised more than $2,500 for the organization, which focuses on providing support for abused and neglected children and families.

"I've lived such an affluent lifestyle," she said. "I wanted to help people who don't have what I have."

What began as collecting coins from family and friends for donation eventually became an organized philanthropic club.

Isabel started Spare Change for Change at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana in 2012 and quickly began recruiting peers to raise funds to help less fortunate children in the foster care system.

Now she is working to expand the club by reaching out to students at other schools in Orange County. Students at Corona del Mar High School and University High School in Irvine have started their own Spare Change for Change clubs after speaking with Isabel.

"A simple coin can make such a difference," she said. "A couple quarters a day at many different locations can add up to a lot of money."

Isabel's goal this year is to donate to the foundation $1,000 from each participating school.

Last year, the Orange County School of the Arts club raised $1,115 for the Orangewood Children's Foundation, said Kristi Piatkowski, manager of corporate and volunteer relations at the foundation.

Isabel bought blankets, clothing and toiletries, items from the foundation's "wish list" for foster youths, during the first year she raised money.

"It fit my vision of what I wanted to help with — anything you would use and need every day," she said.

The second year, she provided the foundation with a check, allowing it to decide where the funds were most needed, Piatkowski said.

While the foundation appreciates Isabel's dedication to fundraising, Piatkowski said she also applauds Isabel's ability to educate her peers about the struggles faced by foster youths, even after leaving the system.

"Teens and former foster youth have a lot of challenges to overcome, and they need support too," she said.

Piatkowski said she is impressed by Isabel's professionalism and ability to organize and motivate her peers.

"It's hard not to get excited about what she's doing," Piatkowski said.

Under Isabel's leadership, the club is rapidly expanding at OCSA and now boasts representatives from each grade level.

"My goal is to expand the members and establish roots in the younger students at OCSA, so even after I leave, Spare Change for Change will continue," she said.

Isabel, a junior classical voice student at OCSA, plans to attend college on the East Coast — but stay involved with the club.

How To Help

To donate to Spare Change for Change, visit http://www.sparechangeforchange.com.

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