Optimist Club names student essay winners

DOWNEY - "I believe that by getting my friends involved in volunteering, they realize that they are valuable and capable of great things in life. They see that no matter how big or small of a thing they do, they can make a difference or even change someone else's life. They, in fact, have made a positive impact on society." These are the words of Warren High School senior Alyssa Moreno, writing on the subject "How Can I Help My Friends Realize Their Value?" in the 2013 Optimist Club of Downey Essay Contest.

"The Downey Optimists haven't held an Essay Contest for about 20 years, so it was an honor when they asked the Soroptimist International of Downey to judge the competition," said Beverly Mathis, who co-chaired the judging panel along with Soroptimist President Giggy Saab.

Participation in the contest was limited to the nearly 200 members of the Warren High School Humanitarian Society, an affiliate of the Optimist Club whose students have performed more than 10,000 hours of service in the community during the last year.

Beverly said that the judges were very impressed by what they read. "First of all, the students were very sincere and each of them obviously put a lot of thought and effort into their essays," she said. "They were all creative, sincere and unique in their approach to the value of friendship, and their writing styles were amazingly effective. The competition was very, very close, because the quality of all the essays was so high."

The judges awarded honorable mentions to four students, including (in alphabetical order) Brandon Herrerias, Paul Lim, Emily Lopez and Valerie Marquez.

Beginning with sixth place, below are the winners who will be awarded cash prizes totaling $2,500 from the Optimist Club of Downey, as well as comments from Humanitarian Society advisor and Warren High Spanish teacher Jackie Pardo.

Sixth place went to Ricky Amenero, who will be awarded $100. "Ricky stands out for his kindness," Mrs. Pardo said. "He is friendly and always tries to make sure that others are enjoying themselves as they volunteer."

Jessica Lee was awarded fifth place, which wins her $200. "Jessica is a quiet young lady who does many good deeds but doesn't like to be in the spotlight," Mrs. Pardo said. "She is a nurturer and takes care of others when assistance is most needed."

Fourth place was awarded to Ankur Papneja, which carries an award of $300. "Ankur is blossoming into a wonderful young man," Mrs. Pardo said. "He shows a lot of maturity and dedication for his age. He is only a sophomore, which means I have the privilege of working with him for another two more years."

Debra Jeong won third place, which is worth $400. "Deborah is bright and dedicated," Mrs. Pardo said. "She is outgoing and doesn't wait for things to happen. "She takes action and leads others by example."

The second place winner was Nancy Figueroa, who will receive $500 for her efforts. "Nancy is a dependable young lady," Mrs. Pardo said. "She is always willing to help and do things beyond her responsibilities.

Finally, Alyssa Moreno was named the Essay Contest winner and will receive the first-place prize of $1,000. She also moves on to the Pacific Southeast District Optimist essay competition, where first place is worth $2,500.

"Not only does she have a beautiful smile, but she has a beautiful heart," Mrs. Pardo says. "Alyssa makes those around her feel genuinely loved. Her dedication and passion for helping others will open many doors for her."

"The Essay Contest is one of many Optimist Club of Downey projects to help children throughout the community, " said Optimist Past President and former Downey Mayor Meredith Perkins. "As one of the most active service clubs in Downey, we are excited to be sponsoring not only the Essay Contest, but our Oratorical Contest later this month as well."

Other notable Optimist Club projects in Downey include:

*The 24th Annual Tom Watts Memorial Golf Tournament held in memory of "Del" D'Alessandro, which will be conducted on Monday, April 29 at Rio Hondo Golf Club.

*The club's annual scholarship program, which helps support the college careers of exceptional students graduating from Downey's high schools. *Suporting children with disabilities throughout the year at world-renowned Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.

*Co-sponsoring the annual "Pumpkin Patch" at Apollo Park in Downey, an event that provides a safe and fun Halloween for thousands of local kids and their families.

*Making meaningful annual gifts to the Arc of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, Downey Family YMCA, local Boy Scout troops and Darrell Jackson's Ten-Twenty Club.

"These programs are the heart of our efforts to bring the 'Spirit of Optimism' to our city," Meredith added. Clearly, the Essay Contest judges felt the magic of working with Downey's youth.

********** Published: March 7, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 47