Mabelen’s Story

December 08, 2022

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We’re excited to present our story series featuring powerful youth advocates representing our Kindness in Community Fund recipient organizations. For this message, we’re proud to present Mabelen, who is a HOPE GIVERS prize-winning filmmaker. Donate to our Kindness in Community Fund today to help us continue this impactful work.


The first time Mabelen knew she wanted to see her name on screen was after she saw Happy Feet 2 at her local movie theater. She was sitting inside her small, local theater in the back-middle row, staring up at the screen. From its dazzling musical numbers to its visually stunning animation, Mabelen raved about this movie to anyone who could listen.

The first time Mabelen saw her name on the big screen was at a football game in high school. She was her marching band’s conductor and she was standing on a ladder when her film, “Better Late Than Never,” was being shown to the entire student body. She climbed down the ladder and sat on the track, shocked that some of her most vulnerable parts were being shown to the student body who didn’t understand who she was.

“Better Late Than Never” told Mabelen’s story of going on her journey of acceptance and realization of her heritage and identity, growing up in Northeast Georgia as one of the only Asian American students in her school. In elementary and middle school, kids would make fun of what she ate, how she looked, and when she would speak in Tagalog in front of classmates. Hearing those unkind words made her feel like she didn’t belong and made her suppress some parts of her identity to fit in.

“Better Late Than Never” was the winner of the 2021 Hope Film Challenge, put on by HOPE GIVERS. The challenge asked student filmmakers to produce a short film to not only practice their craft, but to further develop their storytelling capabilities in telling stories featuring hope and resilience. Mabelen learned about HOPE GIVERS from her high school A/V teacher, who encouraged her to enter the festival, believing it was something she could do – and win. He was someone whom she looked up to; he had always made her feel seen. She was with him when she won her award, and she finally felt like she could be that role model to someone else who was struggling with their identity.

HOPE GIVERS creates and produces content to help transform health, equity, and wellbeing for all through young people-created and centered films. Born This Way Foundation is proud to support HOPE GIVERS through the Kindness in Community Fund and the young people with whom they work, just like Mabelen.

Are you interested in helping us fund more organizations just like HOPE GIVERS? Donate so we can make a difference in the lives of young people like Mabelen. 

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For as long as Mabelen has felt different from her classmates, she knew she needed to find a way to be proud of her differences. And from the moment she saw those penguins hot-footing it on screen, she had the instinct that she would do it through film. She still hasn’t wrapped her mind around winning the grand prize; she feels like HOPE GIVERS has created a space where, no matter who they are or where they come from, young people can embrace who they are and discover a sense of belonging and confidence in the world.

Happy Feet 2 gave Mabelen the inspiration to dream about storytelling on the big screen, and HOPE GIVERS gave Mabelen the confidence to pursue that dream. She’s currently a Live Action Production major with a focus on editing and production in college. Her experience with HOPE GIVERS is a cycle of fulfillment for Mabelen: She creates content that inspires her, which in turn, inspires others.

We can make a difference in young people’s lives, just like Mabelen’s. Donate if you want to help HOPE GIVERS and other Kindness in Community Fund recipient organizations working creatively and innovatively to support young people.

Pledge to Take Action