Flathead senior embraces volunteerism with a big heart

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Payton Hallos sits on a bench in front of Flathead High School on Monday, May 20. Hallos is a volunteer with Special Olympics and the United Way’s Lunch Pail Pals program at Elrod Elementary. She is also a National Honor Society member and an executive Ignite mentor. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Under the outward appearance of someone who just likes to keep busy all the time, at heart, Payton Hallos is a dedicated volunteer making a difference in the lives around her.

“I just have always been in a place where I just like to help people,” Hallos said.

And while she’s giving of her time and talent, she gains something in return — new friendships, meaningful experiences and insight.

“I look at it as something that brings a smile to my face and makes me happy,” she said. “I’ve just gained all kinds of knowledge in different areas — or different points of view.”

Over her high school career the Flathead High 18-year-old has been involved with Special Olympics; Flathead’s Ignite peer mentoring program; National Honor Society; Lunch Pail Pals, a mentoring program at Elrod Elementary and the After-School Scholar tutoring program at Hedges Elementary.

Her knack for time management means she always finds time to fit in mentoring and volunteering opportunities while balancing school, work and time with family and friends.

“I do things that make me happy,” Hallos said, which makes it easy to plan ahead.

It wasn’t until her sophomore year that Hallos felt comfortable enough with the high school routine to branch out in joining clubs or activities outside of academics. This is one of the reasons why she joined the Ignite peer mentoring program in hopes to speed up that transition for freshman so they can enjoy the full high school experience earlier on.

“I just hope it helps integrate them into what high school can be for you. You can get right into clubs and have fun in high school — you just have to find what you like,” Hallos said.

Hallos serves as one of about 15 executive mentors, who oversee five mentors paired with a group of freshmen they connect with throughout the school year and give lessons. Mentors check in with how freshmen are doing academically, but there’s also a social component outside the school day whether it’s a study session or meeting at a sports game.

At a minimum, what she hopes freshmen gain from Ignite are friends.

“Hopefully they gained a lot of friends, if not, just people they can say ‘hi’ to in the hallway ­— at least a familiar face,” she said.

One of the organizations Hallos joined her sophomore year that she continues to be involved with is Special Olympics and Special Olympic programs­ — Unified Partners and the Youth Activation Committee (YAC).

Through the years she’s coached athletes, volunteered at the games, competed alongside participants and gained friends. Youth Activation Committee adviser Lisa Thomson described Hallos as someone who isn’t satisfied with just checking off the boxes in a letter of recommendation.

“She does take care of business as her solid GPA and rigorous course selection implies, but where YAC is concerned, she bounds in and is all in — heart and soul. Her positive, overflowing energy and interest in including anyone and everyone is inspiring as she is continually finding someone new to bring into the volunteer fold and is always in search of other ways to help and connect with our Special Olympic athletes,” Thomson stated. “When she is volunteering and/or working with others, it is far from work for her and I see that time and time again. She has been an active Unified Partner with athletes at both Glacier and Flathead. Inclusion is her game. If something needs to be done and she doesn’t have something else scheduled, Payton is there with a smile on her face and at the ready to get the job done.”

Even after accounting for school, volunteering and working at Moose’s Saloon, Hallos still thinks she has time to spare.

“I need to take on something else — I feel it,” she said with a laugh.

Keeping busy, seemingly at all times, is a trait she thinks comes from her mother Mandy Arnone, from whom she draws inspiration.

“My mom just went back to school to become a nurse. Now she’s a nurse up at radiation oncology,” Hallos said. “She was working and going to school at the same time for the past couple of years and I think that was hard on her, but she was able to do it and she was able to do that and be an awesome mom,” Hallos said.

As graduation nears, she’s looking forward to the next step, which will be interning at a veterinary hospital and taking a deeper dive into her career path.

Hallos plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology and conservation at Washington State University as a pre-track to studying veterinary medicine. In her career, she wants to focus on exotic or endangered animals such as big cats and small animals.

She said growing up with a veterinarian as a next-door neighbor spurred her interest in pursuing it as a career.

“I’ve always loved animals and I’ve always loved science. I love science,” Hallos said.

In reflecting on what difference she’s made, Hallos said her hope is that people see being inclusive will broaden their perspective in a good way.

“I hope I leave the behind the idea that we’re not all that different and just to be nice to each other,” Hallos said.

Flathead High School’s graduation is set for 7 p.m. Friday in the gym. Approximately 291 students are scheduled to graduate.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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