Hanna Skandera, a new assistant state education secretary, returned Thursday to her hometown of Santa Rosa and challenged community leaders to help the next generation "fulfill their purpose" in life.

The 30-year-old Skandera, a deputy to Education Secretary Richard Riordan, spoke to about 275 people at the sixth annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.

The prayer breakfast, sponsored by ministers and other community leaders, is a precursor to the National Day of Prayer next Thursday. It is designed to unite leaders of business, government education and faith through prayer.

For many, the event at the Flamingo Hotel was an opportunity to meet Skandera, the former home-school student who got her master's in public policy from Pepperdine University, took a research fellow's appointment at Stanford's Hoover Institution and now is working to help "see that each student in California gets an excellent education."

The theme was "Let Freedom Ring" and one of the offered verses, Leviticus 25:10, is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

Skandera noted that many people believe freedom is "the ability to do whatever we want to do." Instead, she defined it as "the ability to live our purpose."

She used the analogy of a relay race and highlighted the sustained speed of the runners who work together and pass the baton from one to another. She asked her listeners to see themselves with the baton in the race and to ask, "Who am I passing it off to?"

Mayor Sharon Wright sounded a similar theme when she introduced Skandera's mother and father, Carol and Harry Skandera, and praised their parenting - "the most important job you did so well."

Afterward, Skandera said a key theme of the Schwarzenegger administration is "how do we empower at the local level and hold accountable at the local level."

Young people played a prominent role in the breakfast, introducing the program's participants, reading scripture and speaking about the role faith plays in their lives.