Ten Sonoma County high school seniors honored for community service
Ten high school seniors from eight Sonoma County high schools were honored Wednesday for their leadership and civic contributions at the 29th annual Community Youth Service Awards.
Sponsored by The Press Democrat, the event recognizes students with deep volunteer commitments. Winners, who each receive $1,000, were chosen from 131 nominees from 16 schools. The awards were presented in an evening ceremony at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
This year's winners trained guide dogs; collected book and school supplies to promote literacy in Morocco; and taught underserved Sonoma County children to play the ukulele.
“Choosing among the contributions of these impressive nominees to select 10 winners was difficult. But it certainly inspires a sense of optimism about the future of our community,” said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.
“No matter the individual passions of the 131 finalists, they all have one thing in common: the desire to make the world around them a better place for all of us.”
Mariana Hernandez, Elsie Allen High School
It was impossible for Mariana Hernandez not to fall in love with the land. The Elsie Allen senior grew up on a farm, where her passion for agriculture sprouted and later blossomed into advocacy for the ag industry.
Hernandez is president of Elsie Allen's FFA chapter and vice president of the FFA Sonoma Section, which represents nine chapters from local schools, including Elsie Allen.
She continually steps up to help other members, said Cynthia Roy, her agriculture teacher. Hernandez also dedicated countless hours to events and fundraisers, such as the Valley Fire Donation Drive, Ag Days and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau's Great Sonoma Crab and Wine Fest.
“We lovingly refer to her frequently as our fourth adviser,” Roy said.
Hernandez, who hopes to teach agriculture, previously worked after school with students at Calistoga Junior High and Cook Middle School in Santa Rosa to create gardens.
“With my experience I can make a big impact in the lives of students and continue developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success,” Hernandez said.
Catherine Liang, Maria Carrillo High School
Tuesday nights, Catherine Liang helps transform the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building into a ballroom, teaching middle and high school students to tango or do the box step. An accomplished ballet and ballroom dancer, Liang has spent the past four years as a junior instructor at Nordquist Ballroom Dance Studio in Santa Rosa.
“My personal goal as a junior instructor is to facilitate dance to develop character and confidence,” she said.
The Maria Carrillo High School senior performs at retirement homes, weddings, schools, fundraisers and charity events. She also dances with the Santa Rosa Youth Ballet Company.
Despite practicing ballet two hours daily and juggling school, sports and other activities, her commitment to the 500 middle and high school-aged ballroom dance students never wavered, said Stephen Nordquist, her instructor.
“Catherine has never failed to bring her upbeat resilience and smile to Nordquist practices and classes,” he said.
Beyond the dance floor, Liang has served as a camp counselor and swim coach, and traveled with her church to Ecuador to build classrooms and distribute water filters. The trip sparked an interest in photography.
As the Santa Rosa Junior Commission on Human Rights chairwoman, she's donating money she makes selling pictures to the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Looking to be an ambassador or human rights lawyer, Liang plans to use photography as a way to promote “peace building, cultural exchange and human rights.”
Allegra Robertshaw, Windsor High School
Allegra Robertshaw was a sophomore when she became captain of Windsor High School's Varsity Cross Country Team. Through the sport, she found confidence and a way to escape academic and social pressures.
“Athletics can make you stronger, physically and mentally, and teach you to listen to your body,” said Robertshaw, now a senior.
It's a message she wants to take to other girls, not just her teammates, whom she brought closer together through activities such as group yoga and movie nights. Robertshaw, who also is a Nordquist junior ballroom dance instructor, started volunteering with the Windsor middle school track team and created a running group to train middle school girls for 5K races.
Robertshaw also looked to make a difference in her family's native Nicaragua, where half of the girls don't receive primary education. She organized a race that raised more than $1,600 for a charity that builds and rehabilitates schools and libraries in Nicaragua.
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