by MICHELLE TREMBLAY | photos by Soul of Photography

Kind-Hearted Spirit

student_thomas2A couple of years ago, 10th grader Willa Thomas had a severe asthma attack and was admitted to Rady Children’s Hospital. The incident served as somewhat of a wake-up call for Willa. “When I was hospitalized I saw all the children that had life much worse than I did, they had been in the hospital for months. I, on the other hand, had only been there for one night,” she shared. “I wanted to help.”

And so she did. Willa, an avid swimmer for La Costa Canyon High School, started Swim 2 Breathe, a 48-hour swimming relay benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. “About every 1 in 12 people have asthma and the disease is getting worse every year,” noted Willa. “Asthma is a long-term disease that causes the airways of your lungs to be inflamed. Many children are hospitalized for asthma every year.” Last year, Swim 2 Breathe’s inaugural event raised $10,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Name: Willa Thomas
Community: Encinitas
School: La Costa Canyon High School
Grade: 10
Parents: Jill and Allen Thomas
Sibling: Libby Thomas (13)
Hobbies & Interests: Philanthropy, swimming, water polo, baking, hanging out with friends, LCC football games
Favorite Spots in Encinitas: The beach, HomeGoods, basically anywhere I can drive to (I just got my license so I am a little bit obsessed with driving)

student_thomas3Aside from her work with Swim 2 Breathe, Willa for the last few years has helped plan a Christmas Tree Drive for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House. “We donate 55 trees, one for each room,” explained Willa. “I look forward to this event every year. I love getting to decorate and deliver the trees.” During last year’s Christmas Tree Drive, Willa was approached by a weary-eyed father who expressed his heart-felt appreciation. “I love doing these small acts of kindness that make families’ holidays a little bit better,” Willa shared.

Inspired by her mother, Willa has a passion for volunteering. “My mom is so involved in philanthropy and I think that is part of the reason I am involved in it too,” described Willa. “She always supports me no matter what crazy ideas I come up with, and I could not be the person I am today without her.” Along with Willa’s sister, they are also involved with National Charity League.

As for her future goals, Willa is looking forward to college. “After spending so much time in doctors’ offices and hospitals, I know that I want to do something in the medical field,” she elaborated. “I also think I will always have some sort of philanthropic activity in my life, whether it be running my own foundation or volunteering at a soup kitchen.”