10 Sonoma County students honored at Youth Service Awards

Ten high school seniors from five Sonoma County schools were recognized Monday for leadership and civic engagement in The Press Democrat’s Community Youth Service Awards.|

Ten high school seniors from five Sonoma County schools were recognized Monday for leadership and civic engagement in the 28th annual Community Youth Service Awards.

Four winners in the event, which is sponsored by The Press Democrat, attend Windsor High School. Two are from Healdsburg High School, and there is one each from Santa Rosa High, El Molino High, Petaluma High and Cardinal Newman.

The awards were presented in an evening ceremony at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa. Winners, who receive $1,000, were selected by 29 judges from 106 nominees at 14 high schools. The awards recognize students who go above and beyond the volunteer commitments high schools sometimes require.

This year’s winners used a grant as seed money for a school-spirit store with affordable gear; acted as an interpreter for hospital patients with limited English-speaking ability; and launched educational programs to teach elementary school students about agriculture.

Each of the 10 categories was evaluated by judges who are considered experts in their respective fields, which ranged from agriculture to health sciences to journalism.

“Sonoma County residents are well-known for their philanthropy and volunteerism,” said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

“This year’s honorees are continuing in this fine Sonoma County tradition of giving back to their community. This year’s Youth Service winners contributed in varied ways - from tutoring low-income students to helping elderly dementia patients through music, to the first teen on a medical pediatric team helping children in Nepal.

“All 110 finalists and 10 winners have one thing in common: the desire to make the world around them a better place for all of us.”


Emily Nunez, ?Healdsburg High School

Emily Nunez has been involved in agriculture since she was 8. Her involvement with 4-H sparked her passion for the field, and she has served in numerous leadership positions during her time with the organization. Now, she is actively involved in Healdsburg High’s FFA as vice president.

“What many do not realize is that agriculture affects all parts of one’s life no matter how (much) one chooses to participate in it,” she said.

Nunez has participated in more than 976 hours of community service, part of which was spent creating an educational program for elementary school students called “Seeds for Students,” which teaches kids about the life cycle of a seed, and how to grow seeds into plants. She plans to double major in agricultural education and animal science.

“Kids will make healthier choices by being informed about agriculture and how to grow plants and produce food themselves,” she said.

Her work toward turning a profit from her livestock operation is something other students should take note of, her ag teacher Wesley Hunt said.

“She raises market animals in addition to her breeding cattle, so that she can hopefully earn enough to cover costs each year, something I think many youth need to be encouraged to do,” he said.


Clairisa Rumpler, ?Healdsburg High School

Clairisa Rumpler is finding ways to turn her love for filmmaking into a way to effect positive change.

She first came to realize that was something she could accomplish when she began working with an organization that fought against girl bullying.

“I realized I could apply my film knowledge to create videos to help spread the word. Soon after my first short documentary of them was shown at a local film festival, people began to (inquire) more about their organization,” she said.

Her experience there opened her eyes to other volunteer opportunities in the Sonoma County film community, and throughout high school, she’s volunteered with Social Cause Films, Alexander Valley Film Festival Alexander Valley Film Society.

Through her work with the film festival, she was introduced to another cause she could bring light to through film: Music and Memory, a nonprofit that provides music therapy for people with dementia. She implemented the programming at the Healdsburg Senior Living Center, and is at work creating a film about it.

“Claire has always had a passion for video production; over the years I have watched this passion turn into a real talent,” said her digital video teacher, John Chevalier. “During her time in my program, she has put forth a tremendous effort to not only learn the technical skills of the trade, but has begun to develop quite an eye for the artistic aspects of video production.”


Edden Yashar, ?Petaluma High School

Edden Yashar’s experience as a counselor at a summer camp in Georgia inspired him to create his own camp for middle-schoolers at home.

The summer after his sophomore year, he attended an international leadership and community service program called Havaya. As part of that, he worked to run the active aspect of a day-camp for underprivileged youth in Savannah.

“My personal goal ... was to make sure that the kids left camp with a new love for an activity or a new skill that they could use in their everyday life,” he said.

One year later, the Trojan Track and Field Camp was born. There, at Petaluma High School, Yashar is able to instill his love of track and field in younger students.

His coach, Doug Johnson, called him “one of the finest young men that I have had the privilege of working with.

“He is intelligent, quick to learn, dependable and eager. He has surely been an asset to our school system and has provided a great service to the youth of our Petaluma community.”


Monica Contreras, ?Windsor High School

At the beginning of the school year, Monica Contreras created a free tutoring program for middle-school kids at Cali Calmecac Language Academy who were struggling with the new Common Core material. Twice a week, 15 to 20 kids receive help from the program ­- and inspiration from Contreras, who shares her story of going from a foster home to becoming a student who is headed to college.

She said she made it her mission to help her students understand the material and become more confident academically.

“I know that I am making a difference, but I also know that their perspective of education is becoming more positive and that is what truly makes me proud,” Contreras said. “I am helping kids who hated school enjoy and appreciate all it has to offer.”

Contreras also works with the students’ parents, helping to educate them about the academic requirements for college and how to support their child’s academic and time-management needs, said Davon Godwin, Contreras’ English teacher.

At her school, Contreras led an effort to gain more input from Spanish-speaking families on surveys sent to parents. “Thanks to Monica’s diplomatic and persuasive appeal, the surveys are all now translated into Spanish,” Godwin said.


Anamaria Morales, ?El Molino High School

Anamaria Morales is a budding entrepreneur. In her junior year, she won an $1,800 AdVenture Capital grant in a competition for seed money to start a project that would better the health or well-being of her school. She used the money to bring the El Molino Student Store back to life, giving students access to affordable spirit gear.

“Partaking in this competition has inspired me to pursue my goals of studying marketing and logo design in college - and to hopefully, one day, own a business,” Morales said.

Outside school, Morales works as a peer educator at the Forestville Teen Clinic, providing information about safe sex, gender identification and mental health. She also volunteers in the Guerneville After School Program, helping fifth-grade students with their homework.

At El Molino, Morales serves as senior class president, assisting communication between the school’s diverse student groups, said her AP English teacher, William Olzman.

“I’ve never seen as eclectic a person as Anamaria is,” Olzman said. “Her smile and enthusiasm for whatever she’s doing is infectious to both the majority and minority populations of our school.”


Isabella Rader, ?Windsor High School

Izzi, as her friends call her, is an active participant in her campus climate change movement. First at Healdsburg High and later at Windsor High, she’s volunteered with ECO2school, educating other students about what they can do to save the environment. Her focus is on reducing each student’s carbon footprint by changing the way they get to and from school.

“I want to spread the word and catalyze the necessary actions to save this earth,” Rader said.

She had two key internships - one with the Center for Climate Protection and the other with Yuba Bicycle in Petaluma - in which she promoted conservation through social media.

She also founded her campus Eco club and worked on the Global Student Embassy garden project at Cali Calmecac.

Rader was inspired in part by a trip to China in 2015 with a group of other Bay Area activists. She talked to people about what she had done and worked with three schools to help improve the environment.

She said she was honored to be nominated for the award but is not in search of recognition. She plans to attend Sonoma State University in the fall.

“Her contribution to Windsor High School as well as schools around the county have been unparalleled,” said English teacher Paul Jolly.


Isabel Torres Malfavon, ?Windsor High School

Isabel Torres Malfavon likes to help people whether they’re ill, in need of food or could use help with their math homework. She is shadowing an oncology nurse at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where she talks to patients, often in the late stages of cancer, who are unaccompanied by family members.

Torres also serves as a Spanish-language translator for the nurse because she is bilingual.

“I thoroughly enjoy conversing with patients because it allows me to get to know them on a more personal level, which in turn allows me to see them as they truly are,” she said.

She also volunteers at the Redwood Empire Food Bank as part of a class project and with the group, Tomorrow’s Leaders Today. The work made her discover the large number of people who do not get enough to eat in Sonoma County.

Torres loves to tutor classmates, especially in math. It brings her joy to see how relieved people become once they understand something. She said teaching comes almost naturally to her.

Science teacher Marybeth Fenton said Torres’ enthusiasm was evident when she took her advanced placement biology course, which opened the door for community service in health sciences.

“I can state with confidence that this is a young woman of excellent character, polished academic skills and great intellectual promise,” Fenton said.


Ashlee Ruggels, ?Santa Rosa High School

An eight-day medical mission to Kathmandu, Nepal, last year helped Ashlee Ruggels realize what she wants to do with her life - tell other people’s stories and bring social awareness to communities that may not be covered.

“My goal in life is to be able to give a voice to those who may not have one, through journalism and education,” she said.

She went to Nepal with the group Healing the Children and worked at the Nepal Orthopedic Hospital. She served as a nurse, social worker and journalist, documenting all that was happening while assisting in surgeries and checking on patients.

After her return, tragedy struck the country in the form of a fatal earthquake that killed thousands. She began educating her peers through class presentations and a blog that reaches more than 3,000 people. She volunteered at a local benefit that raised $10,000 for earthquake victims.

More recently, she was inspired to start the Facebook page, Real Humans of Sonoma County, which shares the stories of local people. It has more than 900 “likes.”

School counselor Kris Bertsch-Rydell said Ruggels is a bright, energetic, compassionate and socially conscious young woman.

“Ashlee has balanced her academic work with a very deep involvement in extracurricular and community activities,” the counselor said.


Julia Hasson, ?Cardinal Newman High School

There was a time when Julia Hasson feared math. But she overcame her anxiety as a middle school student by participating in a mentoring program called MathCounts. Fast-forward a few years and Julia was a junior at Cardinal Newman High School. A MathCounts coordinator asked for volunteers to lead new chapters and Julia started one up at Roseland Collegiate Prep, a middle school serving a large Latino population.

Algebra was not part of the curriculum and Julia was concerned students there would not have the same opportunities as other seventh- and eighth-graders.

She recruited Roseland students to join the club, enticing them with impassioned speeches and alluring snacks. They joined and she helped turn them into “mathletes” who took part in school math competitions. Mostly importantly, they honed their math skills and gained confidence.

Now, she is focusing on preparing the eighth-graders for high school.

“My goal was to bring a program like MathCounts to students in need who lack some of the academic and economic advantages that top tier private schools and only some public schools offer,” she said.

Counselor Mary Euphrat called her a “wonderful example of a young, Christian gentlewoman.”

“She is respected and admired by both the faculty and her peers,” Euphrat said.


René CantoAdams, ?Windsor High School

Advocating for music education, teaching others to play and performing in his jazz ensemble, Opus 5, are René CantoAdams’ passions.

As a Windsor High School student, he felt an insatiable drive to expand and improve the music program, which he said was minimized by budget cuts. He created early morning and afternoon performance groups and assisted the band director in running the program. When the band director was absent, he would lead the class.

“My fellow students have called me the assistant band director for the all the work and hours I put into the program,” he said.

His volunteer work expanded to helping throughout the school district. He has played and instructed at elementary and middle schools. And he’s performed with Opus 5 to raise money for music education.

Rene has played principal clarinet for Santa Rosa’s Symphony Repertory Orchestra and alto sax at Sonoma State University.

At Windsor High, he is credited with pioneering the jazz program. He hopes to someday become a music teacher.

His mantra?

“Play anywhere, anytime with anybody.”

Musician Roy Zajac, who taught Rene for three years, said Rene is the only high school student he has known to play in ensembles at Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State and six Sonoma County high schools.

“His reputation as an ultra-reliable, organized and talented individual makes him someone that everyone wants in their production, but clearly Rene is giving of his time,” Zajac said.

You can reach Staff Writers Paul Payne at 568-5312 and Christi Warren at 521-5205.

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