Lanae Lopez learned to appreciate at a young age all that she had.
The Lawrence High School junior has found constant reminders of her blessings during a lifetime of volunteering that includes co-founding her own community service organization.
“I learned that compared to a lot of other people, I have a lot,” Lopez said. “Not that I was ungrateful, but I learned to be really grateful for what I have. I also learned a lot about health issues that I never knew before. I was young when I started, but even as I got older and got to understand more, I saw a different side of things.”
Lopez is one of three high school students to receive the Young Woman of Achievement award from the Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women. Also honored were Namiaya Kelton of Ewing Township and Mehar Bajwa of Princeton.
An awards reception was originally planned for March 31 and then postponed until June 30 due to the COVID-19 crisis. It has now been cancelled, but a recognition video is planned to be posted on the Mercer County website (mercercounty.org).
“It is with great sadness that the Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women has canceled its annual awards reception,” said a statement on the county website.
At the awards reception, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and members of the Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women were to present awards for the Woman of Achievement and the Young Woman of Achievement.
The Woman of Achievement Award was established to honor Mercer County residents who volunteer their time to make the county a better place to live, raise a family and work. The Young Woman of Achievement Award honors high school students for their outstanding volunteer work within the county.
“We look forward to honoring each of this year’s recipients,” said Hughes, the event’s honorary chairman before the event was cancelled. “We are proud to recognize these selfless individuals for their work and the example they set for everyone in our communities.”
Lopez volunteers with two organizations with personal connections—Adela’s Angels and Law Enforcement Officers Against Prostate Cancer Foundation. In addition, she and her twin brother, Lance, started the HOPE By 2 Foundation which helps to collect coats, hats, gloves and pajamas for youth in the foster care system in Mercer County. Lopez is being honored for her abundance of community service work.
“It’s really great,” said Lopez. “I think it’s really amazing that they chose three young ladies to be honored for this.”
Lopez was in class when she found out she would be honored, and it came as a shock to her. She hadn’t been thinking about the award.
“I didn’t do this just so I could be honored,” Lopez said, adding she didn’t realize she could be honored for volunteer work. “I just wanted to do it to help out other people. To know I’m being recognized for that feels really good to me, but that’s not what my whole purpose of this was.”
Lopez is highly active in school and in athletics at Lawrence High. She has run sprints for indoor and outdoor track and field, and was to be a co-captain of the girls team this spring.
Outside of her schoolwork, Lopez is a part of the business club, DECA, and she volunteered with the Black History Month gala committee, which puts on the largest event in the school district to end February. Lopez served as co-host at the gala.
“Lanae was one of the vital members of the planning committee,” said Jametta Clarke, the gala’s advisor. “The committee is made up of about 20 students. We don’t have officers, but if we did, she would have been the vice president. She was very sharp and very detail oriented. I needed people like that on the committee. She’s very engaged and outspoken.”
Clarke also teaches social studies at Lawrence and had Lopez in her law class this year. She taught Lopez previously in her Principles of Economics class.
“She’s such an amazing young lady,” Clarke said. “She’s outgoing, outspoken, very smart. I called her an old-school thinker. She thinks outside the box, well beyond her age. You don’t see that in a lot of teenagers these days. She’s a special young lady. I’m happy for her.”
“To meet her and to know her is to love her,” Clarke said. “She’s an amazing student.”
Lopez went so far as to invite some of her teachers and advisors to attend the awards reception. They have been important influences in her life, she said.
Lopez balances her in-school and out-of-school commitments well. She finds ways to slot everything into her schedule.
“The foundation things are from August to October,” Lopez said. “In that time frame, I’m not really running. If it’s anything that has to do with it and it’s during when I run track, I would do those on the weekends. I only have practice on Saturday morning and it would be over and I wouldn’t have (track) any other time during the weekend.”
Being active in the community has been important to her from a young age. She traces her community service roots back to when she was 6 years old. She volunteered with her church, and it made a strong impression.
“When I was in church around the winter months and around Thanksgiving, my church would make food and we would go around giving it to the communities like Trenton, to people that couldn’t get it and we would give it to people that were homeless,” Lopez said.
The takeaway from those experiences was clear. Lopez enjoyed helping others.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to have these things, and I’m blessed enough to have a family where I can celebrate Thanksgiving with and have food to eat, but there are others that don’t have that,” Lopez said. “I learned I need to start giving back to people that don’t have those opportunities.”
Lopez began to take advantage of opportunities created close to home. She was only in third grade when her grandfather died from prostate cancer, and the family founded LEOAPCF to educate men on testing and treatment.
“We had this stand at a market,” Lopez said. “I worked the stand and I would give out pamphlets and flyers to make sure people got checkups and were aware of it because not a lot of people knew about prostate cancer. I reach out to people and call them and make sure they’re getting checkups.”
LEOAPCF also holds an annual gala to honor cancer survivors. Lopez looks forward to every year helping to make sure it runs smoothly and attendees have a good time.
“I set up the tables and make sure everyone is okay, and be in the front welcoming people,” said Lopez. “I remember one year it was so big because they honored 50 people. It was a bigger task for me, but I handled it.”
Adela’s Angels was similarly formed by the family. Lopez’s mother, a 12-year breast cancer survivor, started the organization as an outreach to women going through what she did. The organization helps educate and support women.
“She made Adela’s Angels so that women are getting checked up,” Lopez said. “And we sit with them at hospitals while they go through chemotherapy, because not everyone has family that can be there with them.”
Beyond that, Adela’s Angels promotes fitness events like community walks or runs, and they organize fitness challenges like bike-athons at local gyms.
Being connected with those organizations prompted Lopez to want to be involved in more community service. Three years ago, she and her brother created HOPE by 2, which stands for Helping Others in order to Promote Elevation.
“It makes me want to help people even more,” Lopez said. “It deals with giving clothes to mostly kids who are in foster homes. My mom is involved with DYFS. Seeing how stressed she is about these kids and how they don’t have certain things, it makes me want to do something so I can help them.”
Lopez said she finds herself happiest when she is helping others. Her experiences in community service have helped to shape her career goals.
“I feel really great when I do this because it has to do with what I want to do in the future,” Lopez said. “I want to be a lawyer. I want to be the voice for those that don’t have a voice.”
Doing so will keep Lopez involved in helping those less fortunate in the community. It’s something that she has been passionate and dedicated to throughout her life.
“I really enjoyed doing it,” Lopez said. “It sort of came natural to me. It’s like, at this time of year I do this for this organization, and at this time of year so I do this with this organization. It gave me life. It made me happy.”