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North Allegheny's Makayla Alaquiva honored by Junior Achievement

A 10-year-old student in the North Allegheny School District is the youngest honoree for the Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania’s inaugural 18 Under Eighteen awards for 2022.

Makayla Alaquiva is a fourth grader at Hosack Elementary and has made caring for those in need, spreading kindness and welcoming new friends a mission.

Makayla helped to lead her school’s No Place for Hate initiative, working with fellow students to promote inclusion and diversity.

“I feel like when someone new comes into the school, no one is comfortable talking to them. We need to direct them to the right place, answer questions they have. One of the new kids is now my best friend,” she said.

She has helped raise funds twice a year for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank by filming kid-geared cooking segments and commercials for the organization’s telethons and fundraisers, done in partnership with KDKA television, said her mother, Beth Burrell.

Burrell, who does marketing and public relations for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, said Makayla was so accustomed to the work of the organization, visiting the food bank with her mom and seeing the value of helping others, that helping out with the fundraisers was a “natural fit” for her.

“She really latched onto the idea,” Burrell said.

The 18 under Eighteen awards from Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania and presented with NexTier Bank honor 18 notable young people from the Pittsburgh area, Western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. Makayla was one of 100-plus nominees, said Kim Sterling, communications and marketing manager for Junior Achievement.

“Makayla is an impressive example of how you’re never too young to be a leader and to make a difference,” said Patrice Matamoros, president of Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania. “Makayla’s desire to help others in her community and beyond is inspiring, and we’re proud to have her as one of our 18 honorees.”

Makayla has studied American sign language for several years through Lend An Ear Consulting in Pittsburgh with founder Michelle Walker.

Makayla said it’s important that others take the time to learn how to speak through their hands, which is just another language.

“People really need to spread kindness instead of how it is right now,” she said. “I want to keep encouraging people to express kindness more.”

It was during the social unrest of 2020 when Makayla realized that people who are deaf or hard of hearing also had something to say. This helped inspire the creation of the Emmy-award winning video “Unspeakable,” produced by her dad, Emmai Alaquiva, who is a videographer. Makayla and her dad were featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last year discussing the importance of the video.

Her mom said Makayla was always naturally empathetic toward others, but those around her have really helped shape her, such as the people she would meet at the food bank, as well as the values she learned from her dad and family and by helping the less fortunate. And she took time to learn about Black history while visiting the Whitney Plantation in Edgard, La., last fall.

Makayla is a gymnast, who has two dogs, two cats and a fish. Along with playing with her little sister at her McCandless home, she enjoys basketball, cheerleading and playing in the snow.

Sterling said the 18 Under Eighteen have distinguished themselves as leaders and role models who use their abilities to raise money, volunteer, advocate in the community and/or engage in entrepreneurial pursuits.

All 18 honorees will be recognized this month during an event at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

Makayla would like to focus more on the homeless and less fortunate. She already has ideas, including setting up outdoor food carts for those looking for a good meal.

And she said writing a note of encouragement to someone in challenging situations can go a long way.

“Even a card helps a lot, the card just can say, ‘You can do this,’ ” she said.

She has developed her own signature phrase and thought-provoking question: “What is your ‘and’?” It’s meant to encourage people to think about what more they can do to help others and make the world a better place.

For her, she said, “It means that I can’t be described as just one word but many.”


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