Canyon Crest students give back to African refugee families, children

Daniel Petroff drops off donations to Kupanda Kids.

A group of Canyon Crest Academy students who are part of the Helping Hearts club are doing their part to help 25 African refugee families in San Diego during the pandemic crisis. The club, founded by CCA sophomore Daniel Petroff, is working with Kupanda Kids, a non-profit organization providing African war refugee children mentoring and educational support.

The refugee families have come to San Diego from countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya in hopes of a fresh start. The cause calls to Daniel’s heart as his father was a refugee of the Soviet Union and he has told him stories about how hard it was being a newcomer in a new country. Daniel had wanted to start the Helping Hearts club at his school but then the pandemic hit so he decided to start the club on his own with fellow CCA sophomores Steven Zheng and William Kang.

“Our organization believes that, as a community, it is our duty to make these families feel welcomed,” Daniel said.

"Kupanda Kids" with some of the donations from Helping Hearts,

As part of their efforts, the friends gathered critical items such as gloves, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper, soap and face masks—some of the masks were provided by Mighty Masks, which was founded by CCA freshman Carson Doan with his sister Makenna, a junior at Cathedral Catholic.

The group also gathered clothes, snacks and athletic equipment such as tennis rackets and rollerblades for the families.

“For our second project we are planning to establish remote tutoring services using Zoom technology for the refugee children,” Daniel said. “Our main focus will be providing the refugee children with mentoring and educational support to help them get on the path to the American dream.”

Currently there are about 20 children in need of tutoring. The first Zoom call to set up connections with the kids was held last week and Daniel got a kick out seeing one of the kids on the screen skating around in the rollerblades they had donated.

“Daniel and his organization have been a big help to Kupanda,” said one the organization’s founders Craig Nicholas. “Currently, they are offering technical support for social media and are building a network of tutors that can work with refugee children of all ages. This is especially important now that tutoring may need to occur remotely and additional tutors are needed for one-on-one support.”

“We look forward to a strong working relationship with Daniel and his team in the future.”

Helping Hearts’ work is an example of ubuntu, a Nguni Bantu term meaning feeling connected to universal humanity. According to Kupanda, it is often translated as “I am because we are,” or “humanity towards others,” but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”

Once things get back to normal, Daniel’s goal is to make Helping Hearts an official club at CCA and get even more students involved in assisting the refugee population.

“I feel like I really need to give back because people helped my dad and me personally,” Daniel said. “It really makes me happy that I can give back.”

Helping Hearts is continuing to collect donations of masks and gloves as well as monetary contributions. To learn more visit