Twelve years after she created a nonprofit organization, A World of One’s Own, in her senior year of high school, Naomi Hatanaka Reeves ’11 created the Naomi Hatanaka Reeves Endowment for Student Philanthropy. The fund begins a new chapter for a project that has already influenced students and brought the community together, promoting a culture of student philanthropy at Flintridge Prep and providing generations of future students with opportunities to research, learn about, and support global initiatives, global and community service projects, or partnerships with organizations that support positive change in the world.
It all started with a trip to Nicaragua led by Spanish teacher Manuel Nuñez the summer before Naomi Hatanaka Reeves’ senior year of high school. Naomi and four other students stayed with host families, sharpening their language skills and immersing themselves in Nicaraguan culture. They also visited La Mascota, the nation’s only pediatric cancer hospital.
Naomi learned that families often made arduous and expensive journeys to the hospital to stay with the patient for treatment. The hospital had no room for families to be with their loved ones, and with both parents giving up work to support a sick child, families often had nowhere to sleep and little to eat. In an interview for our magazine in 2011, Naomi said, “All I could think about was how we absolutely have to help the families. I had no idea how we were going to help, but I had no question or hesitation that we would find a way.”
She spent her senior year working on an independent study project with Sr. Nuñez, creating A World of One’s Own (AWOO), a nonprofit to support families at La Mascota. By fundraising within the Flintridge Prep community, the project soon began providing monthly food packages and transportation funds to families dealing with cancer, ensuring they had the basics while their children received treatment. As Naomi continued her education at UC Berkeley, she hoped the organization’s long-term success would be galvanized by the Flintridge Prep community— particularly students.
She also said in 2011 that she hoped the organization would “encourage leadership both at Flintridge Prep and the communities that will be served.” For seven years, as Naomi moved from college to a strategic consulting role at Deloitte, and from there to Google, it did. Naomi says Sr. Nuñez was her partner and the project’s “lifeblood.”
“When we didn’t get the transparency we needed out of the hospital and out of the foundations, he had the connections—he was the one who got answers,” she shares. “I think his vision for the program was entrepreneurial. He had so many ideas and he’s not afraid to say those ideas and put himself out there. I think that’s huge— especially as a high school student when you’re just figuring out who you are.”
"I think creating an environment for students to feel comfortable enough to go out on a limb is pretty incredible. Sr. Nuñez shares in your excitement, which I think creates the right environment for students to really thrive in.” — Naomi Hatanaka Reeves ’11
By the time the school heeded State Department warnings to restrict travel to Nicaragua in 2018, Sr. Nuñez and other faculty members had chaperoned dozens of students, building relationships with schools, families, and social workers in Managua. Brothers and sisters of participants from the first trip followed their siblings’ example. The trips were an early prototype for the school’s current Global Studies program.
Naomi’s dream that AWOO’s funding be driven by FlintridgePrep students came true. The more students who participated in the program, the more they wanted to support AWOO. One of the most successful fundraising and community raising efforts came from the school’s Athletic Council on Leadership (ACL). ACL members worked with then-Athletic Director Alex Rivera to organize an annual community 5K to raise funds for AWOO.
As the political situation worsened in Nicaragua, communication with AWOO’s nonprofit partner in Nicaragua became less transparent. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse, and Naomi could no longer guarantee aid was getting to families. She decided to suspend the distribution of funds.
She reflected on the experiences and people at Flintridge Prep that had influenced and encouraged her efforts and wondered if she could make something new with the remaining AWOO funds. Sr. Nuñez had entertained, contributed to, and helped her shape her ideas. Great Books teacher Peter Bachmann supported and encouraged her by pressing her to ask what a good life can be. A now-defunct organization called the Pasadena Independent School Foundation (PISF) had given her the mindset that she could make a difference in Nicaragua. The program asked independent school students to evaluate charitable organizations and allocate philanthropic funding based on criteria. “There was a lot of education that came out of that program for me,” she says.
Her senior year Investments class also was influential. “I think one of the most impactful things about that program was the fact that students themselves were empowered and had the agency to invest in actual funds and do the research and convince other students that it was the right investment, create a thesis around it, and sell it.” As with PISF, students were responsible for justifying their decisions about how real money should be spent, as well as analyzing impact.
Converting the funds from AWOO into a Flintridge Prep endowment fund could provide students with access to real money. Supervised by an enthusiastic adult advisor, an endowment fund could perpetuate a culture of philanthropyand influence the agency, leadership, and initiative of students just like Naomi. “I was very cautious about bringing up the thought of creating an endowment fund with remaining AWOO funds, but I remember [World Languages Department Chair] Fabian Bejerano telling me that Flintridge Prep was excited about the idea. That was very exciting, because I suddenly realized this actually could have a long-term impact by encouraging students to invest energy and real funds to support local and global initiatives and partnerships.
“It is full circle. It was the students at Flintridge Prep who fundraised, and now they’re giving back to future generations to hopefully learn and do the exact same things. It’s a poetic end to one chapter but a beginning hopefully to the next.” “ I’m very excited for students to have an opportunity to make an impact on communities. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the fact that it will have a longlasting impact on students and Flintridge Prep.” — Naomi Hatanaka Reeves ’11