Ten Sonoma County high school seniors were honored Tuesday for leadership and volunteerism in their schools and community.
The 23rd annual Community Youth Services Awards, sponsored by The Press Democrat, recognizes students who promote the common good by serving others.
"There are a lot of scholarship programs around grade point average and academics -- there are not many scholarships available for what kids do to connect themselves to their community," Press Democrat publisher Bruce Kyse said.
"What these kids do in the local community and in the larger world community is remarkable when you consider all of the other pressures they have in their young lives."
Each category is judged independently, by a separate panel of judges. This year marks the first time in at least seven years that four students from one school were honored. Petaluma High School won four awards this year.
The awards were presented in a ceremony Tuesday at the Friedman Event Center. The winners receive $1,000 each. They were selected by a panel of 30 judges from 156 nominees representing 20 Sonoma County high schools.
Colleen Kelley, Santa Rosa High School
Colleen Kelley comes from a family of agriculture enthusiasts and was a booster of the Santa Rosa High School Future Farmers of America long before she became a Panther.
She "is always one of the first to volunteer for FFA events and activities," according to Santa Rosa's agriculture teacher, Lisa Piehl.
"The feeling of working hard so that someone else can have it a little easier is incredible," Kelley said.
In addition to FFA, Kelley has been active in DeMolay International and International Order of Job's Daughters, working on a variety of projects including Relay for Life, sorting gifts for Toys for Tots and food service at monthly Masons meetings. She is also a member of the school choir and is active in her church.
"She is educated, responsible and respectful," Piehl said. "When completing her work and assignments, Colleen always goes above and beyond to ensure that it is the best that it can be."
Tony La, Sonoma Valley High School
Tony La teaches dance to kids at the Boys and Girls Club, students at Adele Harrison Middle School and to fellow students at Sonoma Valley High. He dances with the Experiential Theater Company in Sonoma and played a key role in the "Sweetheart Gala" benefit performance for the Boys and Girls Club.
Dancing is a natural way to forge connections between people, La said.
"I have shy people and social people dancing in one room," he said. "Because of my dance classes, and because a lot of students are really into dance, next year at SVHS they will have a credited dance class. I feel that I contributed to that cause; although I am kind of jealous that kids in the future get A's just for dancing."
Cat Austin, the artistic director for the Experiential Theater Company, said La is a talented dancer and singer who is able to connect with other members of the company to nurture their growth.
"The young cast found him captivating as a teacher and fun to work with because of his sweet and patient nature," she said.
"Tony loves a challenge and will always welcome the 'high bar' in order to express his wide range of talents and giftedness in the performing arts and academics," she said.