10 Sonoma County high school seniors honored for leadership and volunteering contributions
Ten seniors from eight Sonoma County high schools were recognized for their leadership and volunteer work Wednesday at the 31st annual Community Youth Service Awards.
Students honored at the event, sponsored by The Press Democrat, volunteered at a food bank and a memory care program. Some traveled to Central America on service projects, started youth symphony clubs and collaborated on robotic inventions. Winners, who receive $2,000, were selected from more than 120 nominees. The awards were presented at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.
Two winners attend Casa Grande High, and another pair attend Santa Rosa High. There was one each from Petaluma High School, Rancho Cotate High School, Healdsburg High School, Roseland Collegiate Prep, Sonoma Valley High School and Cardinal Newman.
“Choosing 10 scholarship winners out of 122 outstanding finalists was very challenging again this year,” said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat. “Every one of these students has been willing to step up and give back to our local community; something we admire, appreciate and congratulate.”
Lucas Cheda Petaluma High School
After years of involvement with local agricultural groups, Lucas Cheda sprang into action after the October 2017 wildfires erupted in Sonoma County.
Cheda, who has been a 4-H junior leader and has aided the Petaluma FFA, said he spent more than 100 hours at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds helping set up and run a livestock evacuation center to take care of animals during the wildfires. He covered several overnight shifts, as well as helped build corrals, set up watering systems and distributed food to a variety of animals, including nearly three dozen of his own family's calves.
One moment that sticks with him was when a man and his daughter and their three pets pulled up to the fairgrounds. The man couldn't find his wife. Cheda said he helped get the man's animals settled for the night so that he would have one less worry.
“It was so hard to see how quickly someone's life is turned upside down, but also very fulfilling to be in a position to help, to make it better for this family,” Cheda said.
Cheda's volunteer work also includes assisting younger 4-H members who raise hogs for local fairs and mentoring a child with emotional and learning disabilities.
Allison Keaney, CEO of the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, described Cheda as a willing and professional worker with the maturity to balance his agricultural passions with school and sports.
Cheda hopes to pursue a degree in agriculture education at Montana State University starting this fall before becoming a teacher.
Ahtziri “Ziri” Zamora-Rivera Rancho Cotate High School
Ziri Zamora volunteered for a nonprofit, Project Avary, that aims to help children whose parents have been sentenced to prison. The nonprofit operates a summer camp that offers kids a model for a healthy life.
She was uniquely positioned to share with the children her own experiences with the foster care and adoption process - her parents were incarcerated.
She spent two weeks at the Northern California camp in 2017 and 2018, working with the children. When she wasn't helping in the kitchen, she was assisting kids with arts and crafts, dancing to music from different cultures and more, all to help them come out of their shell.
“I encouraged the children to try their best and step out of their comfort zone,” she said, “because they are very closed off and unaware.”
She hopes to attend this year's camp if she's available and wants to continue sharing her knowledge with kids who had similar experiences with parental incarceration.
Zachary Whelan, the executive director of Project Avary, described Zamora as one of the best teen leaders he has ever worked with. He said he was in awe watching her progression “as she used the arts to become self-aware and to transform personal pain into power.”
“Ziri is a truly remarkable teen leader who is engaging our youth with the arts in a profound way,” he said.
Eric Leyva Healdsburg High School
Eric Leyva lives for soccer.
Several years ago, Healdsburg youth soccer was in crisis. Embezzlement by two past presidents of the Healdsburg Youth Soccer League threatened the sport in the city.
Leyva, who plays high school soccer, felt a call to get involved. When his brother was asked to help out with a team for girls 12 and younger, Leyva pitched in. He stuck with the team after the season ended and the games moved indoors. He refereed matches as a seasonal city worker, and personally trained three sisters who made him fall in love with soccer even more.