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Riley Leongkaye pictured with her certificate honoring her for her volunteer work at the South Coast Botanic Garden. (photo courtesy of Riley Leongkaye)

Peninsula High School junior Riley Leongkaye was recently honored for reaching a 100-hour milestone for volunteering for the South Coast Botanic Garden’s GLOW holiday light and music event that finished up the holiday season last weekend.

Just a few months after a serious bicycle accident that landed her in the hospital, Leongkaye started volunteering for GLOW a week before Thanksgiving. Since then and the over the last weekend of the event, she has been a “human stoplight” and tour guide.

“I love being able to like get outside and socialize, talk to people. It's really a fun opportunity,” Leongkaye said.

Katryn Heise, the Garden's learning and engagement manager, said in an email that GLOW was a way to engage volunteers in a safe way during the pandemic. She said out of 308 GLOW volunteers, 198 are youth volunteers.

"This was our first opportunity to bring volunteers into the Garden after the pandemic hit and now we are excited to announce we will be safely welcoming back our ongoing volunteers on a limited basis this spring,” said Heise, adding that no experience is required.

Leongkaye, who was a competitive club water polo player, said she is lucky to talk at all after a bicycle accident in August.

“I was cut off by a car and swerved to avoid it,” she said. “Sadly the driver didn’t stay, maybe they didn’t realize what happened.”

She had to have plastic surgery on her mouth when her lower gum detached from her teeth. She also suffered a severe concussion, leaving her with memory loss after waking up at the hospital. She was in the hospital for three days and had weeks of bed rest after that, she said.

She continues speech therapy and she still suffers from some short-term memory loss but she said she’s “building it back up.”

“I couldn't talk for about a week, and I really wasn't participating in class at all,” said Leongkaye, adding she had a lot of make-up school work to complete.

Leongkaye said she has had so much fun volunteering for GLOW, she hopes to continue volunteering for the Garden.

“Everyone's so nice,” she said. “They're just super cool.”

For more information about volunteering, visit southcoastbotanicgarden.org.

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