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Unsung Hero: Sophie Raffel, emerging leader for justice

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Unsung Hero: Sophie Raffel, emerging leader for justice

PORTLAND — Sophie Raffel was adopted from Guangszhou, China, in 1995 when she was just 4 months old.

Today she is a senior at Waynflete School, an emerging leader with a determination to make a difference.

Raffel has compiled an impressive record at Waynflete. She’s a top student; captain of soccer and tennis teams; member of the Model UN, Mock Trial, the Girls Leadership Group, and a mentorship group called Raising Awareness and Providing Support, or RAPS.

Such accomplishments justify praise from her school, her family and her peers, as well as a close look by competitive colleges.

But what sets Raffel apart are her substantive activities outside of school.

During the summer after her sophomore year, she worked as a volunteer intern for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which provides legal help to Maine people with low incomes.

“I got an idea of what I want to do with my life,” she said.

This past summer, Raffel volunteered for the Maine Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She did a little of everything for the ACLU: writing blog posts, working the phone bank, designing posters.

“It was great to be on the ground floor,” she said, “working with people who are passionate about real issues and important causes.”

Since December 2012, Sophie has also been a volunteer for Maine Youth Court. In her writings Sophie explains the purpose of this effort, which is run almost entirely by young people:

“Maine Youth Court tackles the enormous issue of how to reduce recidivism and get kids back on the right path. High school volunteers perform as advocates or judges to complete a hearing in which a disposition is decided for the young defendant known as a ‘respondent.'

“This nation has become so universally accustomed to the status quo that many have come to accept the revolving door not as a clear indicator of a major error in our system, but as ‘just the way it is’.”

Raffel’s work with the Maine Youth Court has benefited her, as well as the youth she’s served.

“I’ve developed skills for working in public policy on behalf of social justice while being part of something that really matters,” she said.

In her not-so-spare time, Raffel walks dogs for the Animal Refuge League.

Spend a few minutes talking with her and you’ll discover that she’s a leader, not a settle-with-the-status quo, sit-on-the-sidelines kind of person.

“I’m a vocal student in class," she said. "I like to debate and discuss things."

Raffel offers sound thoughts on what it takes to be a good leader.

“You have to be confident and not afraid that you won’t always be liked," she said. "You have to have empathy and really listen to what people want and need. And you have to be sensitive and kind.”