2011 Selfless Seniors
Twenty-seven Albuquerque Public Schools seniors – each with a record of helping in their community with little or no recognition – have been selected as the 2011 Selfless Seniors by the APS Education Foundation.
Scenes from the 2011 Selfless Seniors Ceremony
This is the fourth year the APS Education Foundation has worked in partnership with acclaimed Albuquerque photographer Frank Frost to celebrate the accomplishments of seniors who are serious about their futures, yet find ways to put others before themselves. The students were nominated in a variety of ways – by peers, neighbors, APS staff members, friends and family – and selected by a Foundation committee. Recipients have been active in their communities and schools, quite often without fanfare. They will be recognized at a ceremony on Wednesday, March 30, at Sandia High School.
Portraits of the students have been taken by Frank Frost, a West Mesa High graduate whose vision helped create the Selfless Seniors program. Frank’s photographs capture the students in the environments in which they live, play, study and work. Posters of the photos will be on display at their schools and at several local businesses.
“We think of Selfless Seniors as kids you would really like to know,” said Foundation Executive Director Phill Casaus. “They are special in many ways, and yet don’t always fit the stereotype of the high school star. Most are not star athletes or valedictorians. Most simply want to help their peers and people around them.”
The 2011 Selfless Seniors
Jerika Lujan of Albuquerque High
Jerika Lujan tries to motivate others to be the best they can be. She tutors classmates who need help maintaining their grades and, as president of her DECA chapter, motivates others to achieve success. “Helping people gives me a great sense of accomplishment,” said the Albuquerque High Selfless Senior. Through DECA, Jerika has organized several community service projects, including one for state competition that involved building trails, planting trees and picking up trash at Abiquiu Lake. Though she is a busy student and community volunteer, Jerika also holds a part-time job to help pay the family bills. “I love helping people and working with those less fortunate than myself,” Jerika said. “I don’t have a lot, but you don’t need a lot to be rich in life and to give a lot back.”
Monique Parks of Albuquerque High
Monique Parks loves to help people. And animals. “I love the feeling and the unexplainable expressions that people make when I do something unexpected to help them,” said the Albuquerque High Selfless Senior. “I get a strong feeling in my heart when I know I am doing the right thing.” Monique said her heart breaks when she sees animals that have been surrendered or abandoned, so she fosters underweight kittens for the Animal Humane Society of New Mexico and ended up adopting a couple herself. “I wish I could adopt them all. But I can’t, so I do what I can to help.” In addition to helping with animals, Monique’s community outreach includes serving as a church youth leader, giving blood, helping the Salvation Army and donating to Coats for Kids.
Gabriella Armijo of Career Enrichment Center
Gabriella Armijo says one of her heroes is her grandmother, who not only survived cancer, but also counseled drug addicts, helping them to overcome their addictions. “She has taught me that no matter what life gives you, you can overcome it,” said the Career Enrichment Center Selfless Senior. Gabriella is interested in a career in emergency medicine and has volunteered countless hours in the emergency room at Presbyterian Hospital, where she has transported patients, cleaned rooms, delivered lab specimens, restocked supplies and provided comfort to patients and their families and friends. “I really enjoy caring for people, and everywhere I am I figure out some way to help at least one person,” Gabriella said. “A lot of the time people just need someone to talk to who will understand or just listen. I want to be there for them.”
Carlo Aragon of Cibola
Carlo Aragon sees himself traveling across the Middle East in search of world peace. “I believe world peace is achievable, but it will only happen when we lay down our arms for the prospect of peace and devote our time to help others in their daily lives,” said the Cibola Selfless Senior. “We should be thankful for what we have and give back to others who do not have as much.” Carlo has been active in Operation Smile, an organization that helps children born with a severe cleft condition that can keep them from eating, speaking, socializing or smiling. He traveled with the children’s charity to Asuncion, Paraguay, to help children in what he described as a “life-changing adventure.” He also is active in student senate, AFS International, International Cultural Exchange Club, DECA, MESA and the Corrales tutoring program.
Shayne Dilley of Cibola
Shayne Dilley is a soccer player in the process of setting up a special needs program so that high school students with disabilities can also participate in the sport he loves. The Cibola Selfless Senior may not be a star soccer player, but he makes everyone on his team feel as if they are, and he puts his team first. Shayne has been described as “the type of student who works behind the scenes to make other people shine.” He spent time over the summer watching over and mentoring two young men with Down syndrome at a Young Life Camp. Without his help, these two individuals wouldn’t have been able to participate in the camp, which proved to be a life-changing experience for them.
Mark Acton of Del Norte
Mark Acton says there’s a simple explanation for why he helps others: Because they need it. “Not because I get a warm, fuzzy feeling, or just because it’s the right thing to do,” said the Del Norte Selfless Senior. “Sometimes helping people is difficult, strenuous or uncomfortable. The only true reason I help people is because if there is a need, I feel it should be fulfilled. It all comes down to the golden rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” Mark has helped many people through the various organizations he’s been involved with including his church youth group, the Nicaragua Medical Mission Team and Manna. He’s volunteered at Joy Junction and the Roadrunner Food Bank and through mission trips he has helped the New Mexico communities of Truth or Consequences, Eagle’s Nest and Kirtland.
Rina Sylejmani of Del Norte
Rina Sylejmani came to America as a war refugee and is grateful for those who helped her and her family. It’s that sense of appreciation that makes Rina want to give back to the community. “Helping people to me is simple and natural. I want them to be happier, and I know that I sometimes have the power to do that, so it only seems right that I do,” said the Del Norte Selfless Senior. Rina has been active in student government, serving as chairperson for the DNHS Community Service Committee. She has organized and participated in several outreach projects including tutoring, a Haiti relief effort, gathering candy bags for underprivileged children, providing Thanksgiving meals to families in need, giving gifts to children who might not otherwise have a Christmas and more.
Kaitlyn Wakefield of Eldorado
Kaitlyn Wakefield has a long list of community service projects to her credit, which isn’t surprising since she feels called upon to help others. “I believe there’s no better purpose in life than helping others. That’s where I feel the most useful and happy,” said the Eldorado Selfless Senior. Among the contributions Kaitlyn has made to society include providing Christmas gifts to children through the PB&J organization; planning and volunteering at an Angel Tree party for children whose parents are in prison; helping clean the facilities and serve lunch at Joy Junction homeless shelter; helping at a fall carnival at a neighborhood elementary school; assisting with food and clothing drives; volunteering in the pediatrics clinic at UNM Hospital; and much more.
Kelsey Raybould of Eldorado
Kelsey Raybould believes people need the support, love and help of others, and she’s always willing to lend a hand. “Helping people makes me happy. Plus, if we didn’t help each other, we would never get anywhere in life,” said the Eldorado Selfless Senior. Kelsey has been involved in several community service projects both in Albuquerque and Oklahoma, where she moved from a couple of years ago. She has helped strangers – including students who are English language learners and Texas families that she prepared holiday packages for – as well as her own family and friends. “I try to make other people’s lives better and more fun, whether those people are my friends, family, co-workers, boss, someone that I volunteer to help, or maybe somebody I don’t even know,” Kelsey said.
Oscar Gillreath of Freedom High
Oscar Gillreath has been involved in numerous community projects including Special Olympics, which he says enlightened him in the specific physical needs, positive attitudes, open-mindedness and strong will of the special athlete. “Through the Special Olympics, I made a lot of new friends despite their disabilities,” said the Freedom High Selfless Senior. “They are ordinary people who face difficulties just like the rest of us.” For more than a year, Oscar has advised, trained, encouraged and cared for numerous special friends in the techniques and skills of volleyball, basketball and softball. Given the number of personal challenges he’s faced himself, including the death of his mother when he was 14 and rare communication from his father, Oscar has pulled forward and directed his life towards involvement with organizations and people within his community.
Sahar Freedman of Highland
Sahar Freedman admits she’s not sure why she was named a Highland Selfless Senior. “Everyone at some point in their life helps another person – not always in obvious ways,” she said. “It would appear that I was selected only because I’m more obvious (painfully, to some) than others. Being obviously selfless doesn’t necessarily mean I’m particularly selfless. Maybe one day I’ll be that particularly selfless person. I hope so.” Sahar’s guidance counselor would argue that she’s already that particularly selfless person. “I have been overwhelmed by her quiet kindness and generosity to others.” One way Sahar has given back to the community was by participating in the Youth Conservation Corps Art Summer Institute that created a mural depicting the culture and essence of New Mexico on display in the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Clare White of Highland
Clare White says she helps people because she knows how it feels to be overlooked and bullied. “I now have a voice, unlike I did when I was little because I was too shy,” said the Highland Selfless Senior. Clare said she constantly encourages the young children she works with to speak up and dream big. “I tell them they can be just as smart, just as successful, as anyone else.” She volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters and also helps out at a diverse, Title I school. Clare expects to spend a lot more time in classrooms during her lifetime, having dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. “I want to help students who really need encouragement, who need to know they are smart and talented just like everyone else.”
Tony Nguyen of La Cueva
Tony Nguyen says he began giving back to the community as a member of the La Cueva JROTC and then Key Club. One project the La Cueva Selfless Senior helped with was a Toys for Tots distribution, where he remembers a small child telling him, “You are like my big brother.” “It was the nicest compliment I’ve received,” he said. Tony also has helped out at the Multiple Sclerosis Walk, the Jingle Bell Run, the New Mexico Science Olympiad Fair, the Big Brothers Big Sisters carnival as well the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Special Olympics bowling events and several walks and marathons. Said his counselor, “Tony has a feeling inside of him that there are not enough good people in the world, and he thought he should be one of them.”
Victoria Santillanes of La Cueva
Victoria Santillanes enjoys spending her free time volunteering and helping the less fortunate. “I like to help people because it makes me feel good to know I might improve at least one person’s life,” said the La Cueva Selfless Senior. Victoria has more than 300 community service hours. She has volunteered at YDI Heights Head Start; assisted disabled children at Shaw Stables; fed the homeless; taught elementary students entrepreneurship skills; helped out at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; raised money for breast cancer; lent a hand at the annual St. Therese Church fiesta; and works the snack bar at Bears athletics events. Her counselor described Victoria as a truly selfless person who is always there to answer the call for those in need.
Savannah Krebsbach of Manzano
Savannah Krebsbach gets great pleasure from playing violin to inspire and teach elementary school students. She enjoys tutoring younger students in homework club, science club and Battle of the Books. And she likes volunteering in the pediatric ward at Presbyterian Hospital and at the office of a children’s doctor. “I help people because I enjoy the feeling of making them feel better and happy,” said the Manzano Selfless Senior. “At the hospital, I enjoy helping sick children have fun and forget that they are sick for a while. At the elementary school, I love to see the look of inspiration and the happiness of kids who have never been exposed to instruments like the violin before.” Savannah also helps adults, including nurses when they need a break from a crying child and parents of sick children who are trying to cope.
Dao Pham of Manzano
Dao Pham says the reason she helps others is simple: It feels great to make a difference. The Manzano Selfless Senior has been involved in a number of activities including the Prestige Show Choir, Diverse Student Union, Asian Student Union, Black Student Union and the bowling club. She also volunteers her time after school to help a mid-school student from Vietnam learn English, translate assignments and assimilate into a new environment. Dao says the nicest compliment she’s received was being named a Selfless Senior. “I know often times I am more selfish than I am selfless, but I’m working on it,” Dao said. “I know that there are many selfless seniors out there who deserve this award just as much as I do, and I’m honestly very honored to be able to receive this title.”
Victoria Rodarte of New Futures
Victoria Rodarte has learned to successfully balance school, community service and parenthood. “I have very little spare time being a young single mother, yet I help the people of my community every chance I get,” said the New Futures Selfless Senior. Victoria’s counselor describes her as a leader, a role model and a friend to many. “Despite her busy schedule, she is never too busy to listen to her fellow students and provide valuable insight and guidance.” At school, Victoria is involved in student council, the school newspaper and the job mentor program. While most New Futures students don’t engage in many volunteer activities as pregnant or parenting teens, Victoria finds time to volunteer weekly at the New Mexico Cancer Center. She also has been involved with the Blue Star Mothers, assembling “booty baskets” for deployed soldiers.
Alejandro Sedillo of Rio Grande
Alejandro Sedillo was raised by a single mother and grandmother who taught him that helping others is the right thing to do. “I was raised by my mom and my grandma to show respect. So I show respect in every way possible,” said the Rio Grande Selfless Senior. Alejandro’s attitude has earned him the respect of the staff at Rio Grande as well, where he works in the main office. “I do as much as I can for the people who work in the office,” he said. “I help them out in any way I can.” Alejandro admits he had a rough start to high school. He finally recovered all of his lost credits and has been able to participate in more activities this year. One community activity included working as a sous chef at Joy Junction.
Cheryl White of Rio Grande
Cheryl White says her mom’s struggle to raise four children without a formal education has inspired her to work hard in school. “She inspires me to continue to appreciate education and never to let something stop me from achieving my goals,” said the Rio Grande Selfless Senior. Cheryl has been involved in many activities at Rio Grande including the Job Mentor Program, DECA, student senate, MESA and National Honor Society. She also swam and played basketball, softball and tennis for the Ravens. Her busy school life hasn’t kept her from being active in her community as well. During the 2008 presidential election, Cheryl volunteered more than 270 hours to the Campaign for Change. She also has volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, Walk for the Cure, Dia de los Ninos and other organizations.
Erin Beck of Sandia
Erin Beck helps others because it’s the right thing to do. “It gives me a sense of pride and hope. I believe in the good of people, and that’s what I try to embody every day,” said the Sandia Selfless Senior. Erin is a varsity golfer who has taken younger golfers under her wing, providing them support and guidance. “She is a great role model and leader to the girls, but also supports and helps guide our younger boy golfers as well,” said the athletics director for the Matadors. “Erin has been a contributing member to our golf team as a player, but her biggest asset is her leadership, support and dedication to her teammates.” Erin also is involved in Sandia’s student senate, National Honor Society and the Continentals Show Choir.
Samantha Bowman of Sandia
Samantha Bowman says it meant a lot to her when she was described as beautiful inside and out. “The greatest blessing in life is to be able to show people your beauty within and be appreciated for it,” said the Sandia Selfless Senior. Samantha has been involved in several school and community activities. She serves as a member of the student senate and is the assistant business manager for the Sandian newspaper. She also volunteers at the Roadrunner Food Bank; tutors elementary school students; participates in holiday gift exchanges for Headstart; and spends the second Saturday of the month taking part in community service projects for Sagebrush Community Church. “I do community service projects because I want to and because I enjoy it. I do not help people because I am told to do so or feel obligated.”
Deanna Pflieger of Valley
Deanna Pflieger likes to help people, to listen to them, to empathize with them. “I like helping others with their problems because it makes my life have a purpose,” said the Valley Selfless Senior. Deanna is a volleyball coach for junior high girls at Immanuel Lutheran School. “I know playing volleyball and winning was always such an awesome emotion for me that I wanted to pass that emotion on to girls who needed to feel strong and confident about themselves while having fun,” she said. Deanna also has tutored students in math, showing them practical and efficient shortcuts for solving problems. She has done numerous community service activities with her church youth group. She has helped the Ronald McDonald House, collected canned goods and raised money for hungry children.
Angelica Ruiz of Valley
Angelica Ruiz is inspired to help others by her father, whom she described as kind, noble and selfless. She also enjoys impacting the lives of others for the better. “I need not a thank you nor any recognition from those whom I have helped,” said the Valley Selfless Senior. “The feeling of making their life a little bit brighter is more than enough for me.” Angelica is the president of Valley’s choir, secretary of the CNM International Association of Administrative Professionals, a member of Manos Latinas and a volunteer/advocate for volunteermatch.com. She also donates blood, collects soda tabs for the Ronald McDonald House and volunteers at Joy Junction. She said the nicest compliment she’s received was from someone who said her parents picked the perfect name for her because she truly is angelic.
Christina Rodriguez of Volcano Vista
Christina Rodriguez saved an essay she wrote as an eighth grader at L.B. Johnson Mid-School because of the teacher’s comments. “You are a sensitive, beautiful student who writes from the soul,” the teacher wrote. “I hope you will use your amazing gift with language for your future. Learn all you can, read great writers, live your life to the fullest – all that will give you great writing material.” The Volcano Vista Selfless Senior took that teacher’s advice to heart, continuing to write, read and reach out to others. She is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, El Halcon, and a member of the NM Scholastic Press Association. Always willing to help others, Christina said she reaches out because she wants people to succeed. “I hate disappointing others, and I try to help others so I can also better myself.”
Daniel Whiteley of Volcano Vista
Daniel Whiteley, at the urging of a teacher, began tutoring students who struggled with algebra and found the experience rewarding. “I feel compelled to do what I can to make other people’s lives better, no matter how small the impact,” said the Volcano Vista Selfless Senior. Daniel has been involved in several activities as a Hawk including Mock Trial, National Honor Society and Rachel’s Challenge. He also has volunteered for the Rio Grande Food Project and the John Perkins Foundation. Daniel admits he doesn’t know what the future holds for him. “I want to see where college and possibly graduate school takes me, and I want no preconceptions on where that might be,” he said. “Wherever I end up, I do want to continue my service for the community because it is an important part of who I am.”
Kevin Escobar of West Mesa
Kevin Escobar has faced his share of difficulties, but rather than feel sorry for himself, he chose to help others. “I help people because I believe we all need help,” said the West Mesa Selfless Senior. “I try to let people know that this world isn’t just full of bad and hatred, but there is always good and it will prevail.” His role models, who he says reflect his positive and giving attitude, include St. Cristobal Magallanes who founded schools, a newspaper, catechism centers, carpentry shops and an electric plant to power mills. Kevin, like his role model, has helped others by providing tutoring through ENLACE; handing out turkeys through Project Share during the holidays; and participating in the youth group at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. He also is a Matachines dancer for the church.
Sarah Sedillo of West Mesa
Sarah Sedillo believes in the goodness of people and is eager to help others. “Because there is so much suffering, not helping seems like the act of a person in denial. If we all helped as much as we could, the world would be a better place,” said the West Mesa Selfless Senior. Sarah has given back to her community in many ways, from collecting canned food and volunteering at the Roadrunner Food Bank to growing vegetables for the homeless and reading to youngsters as part of a summer reading program. “Though my life is imperfect, I have been very fortunate,” Sarah said. “My struggles have been meager compared to those of others. Though there is much pain in the world, I still believe in the goodness of people and am eager to help others believe in that too.”