2012 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 2012 Selfless Seniors by the APS Education Foundation.
2012 was the fifth 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 were recognized on March 26, in the Albuquerque High gymnasium. Mayor Richard Berry was the featured speaker.
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 2012 Selfless Seniors
Annahi Munoz of Atrisco Heritage Academy
Annahi Muñoz became an advocate for ending childhood homelessness after spending time at Cuidando los Niños, an organization that helps homeless families. “When I went to Cuidando los Niños, I never imagined how upset I would be. Homelessness in New Mexico is a very serious problem. I know little by little things can change, and that the work I’m doing is slowly paying off.” That work includes educating other youth through film and presentations on the number of homeless children in her community and the challenges they face. Ani believes she can make a difference by giving her time, and her smile, to those in need. “I always smile because I know that can brighten someone’s day, and I always try to give positive comments because it can make a difference.”
Maureen O'Donoghue of Atrisco Heritage
Maureen O’Donoghue is inspired by her mother. “She has overcome so many obstacles in this life that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. She shown me that with strength and determination you are the only one who can make your dreams come true. If I can become half the women she is it would be a life well spent.” Maureen is involved in both school and community groups including the AHA Student Council, Immaculate Conception Church, and National Federation for the Blind, where she has provided childcare for young blind children while their parents attend workshops. She also has helped raise money to buy Braille books for children and to send them to science camp. Through her church, she has helped sew and tie quilts veterans and premature babies. She also has volunteered as Casa Esperanza and the Ronald McDonald House.
Richard A. Jojola of Albuquerque High
Richard A. Jojola has a simple answer to those who ask why he helps others. “Why shouldn’t you help people?” When others take his helping hand, Richard said he feels trusted, valued and needed. “I’ve been taught that you help those in need when you can,” he said. Richard has had plenty of opportunity to reach out to others through his involvement in student government, DECA and Bulldog Buddies, a program that pairs seniors with at-risk freshmen to help improve their high school experience. He’s helped raise lots of money for several organizations and scholarships, and has even donated more than a gallon of “life-saving” blood. “I try to be a good role model to those who are younger than me,” Richard said, “but most importantly I try to stay true to what I believe in.”
Claire Tritz of Albuquerque High
Claire Tritz, a talented musician in the Albuquerque High early music ensemble and orchestra, also mentors students learning to play an instrument. “In four years, I have never seen Claire do anything without thinking first of her classmates and what would benefit them,” said AHS music teacher Art Sheinberg. Claire’s willingness to help others expands beyond her school and community; she spent two months in rural Panama last summer as a volunteer with Amigos de las Americas, where she planted trees, built park benches, a swing set, a wheelchair bridge, and educated young people about environmental health. Claire, a good student who also swims for the Bulldogs, says she helps others in memory of all of those who have helped her become as successful. “I help people because my knowledge and expertise is of little value if I don’t use it,” Claire said. “I hope I can inspire others to do their best.”
Sheneille Wilson of Albuquerque High
Sheneille Wilson sees herself as a servant. “I humbly provide whatever I can to the people around me, and I take great pleasure in knowing that I can help.” Sheneille is an honor student, musician, singer, fan, and leader who devotes her time to school, church and community. She has worked with Special Olympics on the “No R Word” campaign, was a founding member of a community service group that brought together students from several local high schools, partnered with the school administration on developing a resource guide of community resources for students and families, and sponsored several workshops for other students leaders from across the state. “Sheneille is a great young lady with many goals for her future,” said AHS activities director Yvette Jaramillo-Barnwell. “She represents the best of the best in high school.”
Rhiannon Mauldin, AHA and Career Enrichment Center
Rhiannon Mauldin, a student at Atrisco Heritage Academy and the Career Enrichment Center, is passionate about helping others. “I fully believe in the principle of paying it forward and for being there for those who think they have no one to turn to,” said the honor student who interns at a crisis center, has interned for the Sheriff’s Department Victim Advocacy Unit, and speaks out for the LGBTQ community and ending human trafficking and violence against women. One of the best compliments she has received: “You made me think.” Though many people have influenced her, Rhiannon said they all share common characteristics. “from being an anchor for me to pushing me out of my comfort-zone, the significant people in my life have always been there when I needed them, are the kind of people I can be honest with, and are those I trust to be there in the future."
Cameron Christiansen, Cibola
Cameron Christiansen has been equally influenced by his parents but in different ways. He gets his altruism from his mother, who puts other before herself. He gets his drive from his father, who spent years in post-secondary school to realize his dream. “I have been taught that where much is given, much is required,” Cameron said. “I am very blessed and I feel a responsibility to help and give back as much as I can. The joy I feel when I serve others is unlike any other feeling.” Cameron is an honor student, Eagle Scout, Student Body Vice-President and active in Operation Smile, which took him to Morocco for two weeks to assist with more than 150 life-changing facial/cranial surgeries. Cameron also is an athlete who started the tradition of presenting a sportsmanship award to members of the opposing team at every home Cibola varsity game.
Tori Atencio, Cibola
Tori Atencio remembers said if she wants something bad enough, she’ll figure out a way to make it happen. She stays busy with school and community activities. She is an athlete (soccer, track, tennis, sports medicine), a student leader (National Honor Society, senate), volunteer (Roadrunner Food Bank, Seven Bar Fun Run, La Familia food drive, nursing home visits, breast cancer walks, youth soccer camps,) church youth group participant and even a coin collector. “I have always felt that a young person’s high school years should be the very best,” she said. “They should be something to remember and cherish. So in order to make that come true, I got involved and that has made all the difference.”
Alexandria De La O, Cibola
Alexandria De La O believes her purpose in life is to find ways to be useful to others. “I love having the ability to change someone’s day or perspective on life with just a helping hand,” she said. Alex, a basketball and softball player, estimates that she has logged more than 1,300 hours of community service while maintaining a 3.8 GPA. She has volunteer through several school and community groups including the CHS Student Senate, National Honor Society, Operation Smile, YoungLife and more. As a WyldLife camp leader one summer, while climbing Pike’s Peak, Alex splinted the leg of a camper who fell and broke his leg. She helped carry him down the mountain, then ran back to rejoin her charges. “Alex is a take-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of person. She sees a need and finds a way to make a positive impact,” said her grandfather Paul O’Brien.
Melissa Conn, Del Norte
Melissa Conn believes in the chain reaction of unselfish behavior. “I feel like if I help someone, maybe they will take the opportunity to help someone else,” she explains. Melissa spends a lot of time volunteering primarily through the DNHS Key Club. She has visited the Joy Junction Homeless Shelter every other week for the past two years, helping any way she can – mopping floors, serving meals, playing with children. “Ms. Conn is never afraid to get her hands dirty in an effort to make a difference,” said teacher Rob Shields. “While many of our wonderful students are involved in activities at Del Norte, Melissa’s activities have made a huge impact on our community.” Melissa also has been instrumental in fundraising for the Salvation Army, the disabled, veterans, and children.
Kyle Stepp, Del Norte
Kyle Stepp was raised by his grandparents, who he describes as his heroes. “My grandparents always had my best interest in mind, raising me to be the man I am today. Even when I was diagnosed with cancer, they never once gave up on me. No matter how much trouble I put them through, they never stopped loving and believing in me.” Kyle passes on that compassion and support through his work with children who are experiencing what he’s been through. He volunteers for the UNM Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Cancer Fund of New Mexico, Sunshine Kids Foundation and St. Baldrick’s Foundation. He also spends time traveling the country to raise money for the charities. Though he missed his freshman year due to his illness, Kyle has been active in high school since, participating in many groups including Student Senate, National Honor Society, choir and Model United Nations. He also served as 1st Vice President of the NM Association of Student Councils.
Skyler Bolles, Eldorado
Skyler Bolles says just as music fulfills the musician and competition fulfills the athlete, altruism fulfills her. “I help people because it’s truly what I love to do. It’s my passion,” she said. Skyler said she is inspired by Abe Assaad, a special needs graduate of Eldorado who, along with his family, helped to bring the Best Buddies program to New Mexico. Best Buddies is an international nonprofit organization that creates friendships between people with and without disabilities. “I joined Best Buddies my freshmen year of high school and it has changed my life,” said Skyler. “It has been the most amazing experience I could ever have asked for and I have met some amazing people. No matter what I do in life, I will always think of Abe and his family and how they touched so many lives.”
Erin Hardy, Eldorado
Erin Hardy knows that sometimes the most inspiring messages don’t need to be spoken. She recalls a young boy she helped as a volunteer for the Cloud Dancers of the Southwest Therapeutic Horsemanship Program. “He didn’t speak, but one day he put his hands on my cheek, looked into my eyes, smiled and laughed,” Erin said. “In that one instant, I knew he cared.” Erin shows she cares by the volunteer work she has done with several community programs including the Orphanage Support Services Organization, Ronald McDonald House, Casa Esperanza, Roadrunner Food Bank, Simple Sounds Community Bell Choir and the Albuquerque Bio Park. She is active in church and school, where she is an honors student and in choir. “I love to give back to the community not just because I can help, heal and make others happy, but also because it helps, heals and makes me happy when I serve.”
Alexia Quezada, Highland
Alexia Quezada knows that a little act of kindness can go a long way. “Whether it’s listening or providing advice, it truly is the little things that count,” she said. “It makes me feel good inside to know that with my aid I’m making something for someone else easier.” Her list of activities both in school and community is long: honor student, Key Club, Black Student Union, MESA, Student Senate, Southeast Heights Neighborhood Association, Trek for Trash, blood drive recruiter, mentor to elementary school students. “Alexia is a take charge person who is able to successfully develop plans and implement them,” said HHS counselor Analisa Armijo. “She is a dedicated, honest and hard-working young lady who will follow through and go beyond what is expected of her.”
Christopher Harms, La Cueva
Christopher Harms is a musician, honor student, quiet leader, and man of faith. He has played tuba, sousaphone and bass trombone in several LCHS and community bands. When he’s not making music, he maintains and repairs the school-owned brass instruments, which has saved the school repair costs. Outside of band, Chris is president of the Science Bowl, involved in National and English honor societies and a past member for Science Olympiad. He also is selfless in his dedication to church, assisting with mass as an altar server since he received his First Holy Communion. During the summer, Chris volunteers as a summer camp counselor at the BioPark. “I help people because I have an innate drive to make a fundamental change for the better in people’s lives,” he said.
Rahul Shinde, La Cueva
Rahul Shinde remembers helping a family friend who had lost his eyesight, reading to him and helping on the computer. “What amazed me was his spirit,” Rahul said. “Despite his impairment, he never seemed handicapped. His independence sparked my interested. The time spent with him inspired me and gave me a glimpse into a world that I could never have imagined.” The experience inspired Rahul to initiate an art program for blind students at the Poona School and Home for Blind Girls in Pune, India. “The sheer joy that a simple act can have on another person really motivates me,” he said. “We are fortunate in many ways, and I believe that it is very important in life to embrace those around you regardless of how different or similar they are to you.”
Tiffany Thompson, Manzano
Tiffany Thompson only knew one of the most significant people in her life for a week. As nursing student at the Career Enrichment Center, Tiffany met a small, fragile retired teacher who was over 100 years old. “This woman, having lived a full life, had surely met hundreds or possibly thousands of people, yet I was the one there at the end of her life. A total stranger opened up, told me about her life and held my hand before she died. It taught me what I a gift I have been given.” Tiffany actually has many gifts, and she willingly shares. She has helped with the New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair, the Rotary Duck Pluck and Seed Festival and Talking Talons. She has visited retirement homes, cleaned up campuses, carved watermelons into centerpieces, played guitar, and served as a manager for the Monarchs football team.
Eli Gail, Rio Grande
Eli Gail knows first-hand that everyone needs a helping hand now and then. “Having endured hardships I could not have overcome alone, I realize that people often need the help of others. Therefore, I do my best to help others whenever possible.” Eli has found an outlet for helping others through JROTC. “Within the program I do my best to impart my knowledge on younger cadets,” he said, adding that he commands a platoon and the Marine Drill Team at his school, and has taken part in various competitions. Outside of school, Eli volunteers to help veterans, has helped with schools supply drives, cleared debris on public and private lands, helped out at a homeless shelter and volunteers at his grandfather’s church, serving as an usher and making rosaries for the Rosary Maker’s Guild.
Jansen Downs, Sandia
Jansen Downs volunteers for several school and community groups, but some of her greatest generosity is for those she is closest to. Jansen has been helping her ailing grandmother, taking her to get prescriptions filled, buying groceries, taking her to doctor appointments and – most importantly – spending time with her. Jansen also helps her father, who if battling cancer. Despite her responsibilities at home, Jansen finds time to give to her community as well, volunteering at the Roadrunner Food Bank, the Rescue Mission, and for the Civitans. She has helped clean up the Embudo Trail and participates in several school groups including Best Buddies, choir, drill team and Key Club. “Jansen has always demonstrated the willingness to help and serve those less fortunate than she is,” said her guardian Kathy Fennell.
Alyssa Ortega, Sandia
Alyssa Ortega lists her three heroes as Albert Einstein, Dr. Seuss and John Steinbeck, whose very different contributions to this world inspire her to find her own voice. “They each had their own way of looking at life, and that is something I someday hope to gain.” Alyssa already is leaving her mark on her community, helping children with disabilities, reading to youngsters in need, and volunteering with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Presbyterian Hospital and the Albuquerque Biopark. At school, Alyssa is an honors student, an outstanding softball player and active in student government, Key Club and other organizations. “I help people because I love the feeling of making a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s big or small,” Alyssa said. “I like helping to make this world a better place, one small step at a time.”
Mary Seibert, Valley
Mary Seibert says the Dalai Lama is one of her heroes because “no matter what the world throws at him and his people, he remains level headed and compassionate. He has mastered the art of leading by example.” Mary also leads by example, feeling it’s important to provide others with opportunities to give. “Most people are looking for ways to give back to their community. All I’ve done is given them that opportunity.” Mary, an athlete and honor student, is active in student government, the Valley Academy and drama. In addition, she organized a project that helped raise money through Smile Train for cleft pallet surgeries. “Many of my peers were very excited to be able to do something to help children with such hard lives. I think this was a new experience for the Valley campus because the students are not usually presented with such impactful opportunities.”
Michael Steudle, Volcano Vista
Michael Steudle describes teachers as heroes. “Teachers devote a ton of time to the success of their students and deserve large praise,” he said. Michael himself has taught German to elementary and middle school students. He wrote lesson plans, prepared all of the materials and adapted them as needed. “Michael is one of the kindest students I have ever taught,” said counselor and former teacher Melissa Roop. “He is a natural born leader, though he does not seek the limelight. His quiet conscientiousness has earned him the respect of his peers and teachers.” Michael, who also is involved in several school and community activities including serving as editor for the VVHS newspaper, said he likes to make others feel appreciated. “In order for some people to be successful, they need to be able to have someone to help them along.”
Annelise Pace, Volcano Vista
Annelise Pace is inspired by her aunt’s little acts of kindness. “Wilma (Wilcox) volunteers her time to countless organizations, but what’s unique are all the little things she does. She’ll include a widowed neighbor in a family gathering or take homemade food to people in need. It’s the spur of the moment kindness that always inspires me because it is evidence of someone with a genuine care of others.” Annelise has demonstrated that kind of care in her work with Operation Smile. She helped increase her school club’s membership, raised thousands of dollars for cleft lip and palate surgeries and traveled to China to educate children and parents on nutrition, fluid replacement, dental hygiene and burn care. She also participated in the International Cultural Exchange in Beijing. Locally, she volunteers at the UNM Children’s Hospital, homeless shelters and food pantries.
Christopher Kline, West Mesa
Christopher Kline has a strong faith, which is what inspires him to give back to his community. He explains his commitment to others by quoting Hebrews 13:16: “Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” An athlete who plays football and runs track, Chris also is an honor student and a participant in the Black Student Union. He said he doesn’t look for recognition when he does good deeds, but simply does what he thinks is right. Those good deeds include participating in such activities and events as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, YAFL football camps, food drives and blood drives. Chris also is an active member in his church youth program, where he has helped with holiday carnivals, special guest speakers, youth games and fall festival.
Dominique Marshall, West Mesa
Dominique Marshall lists among his heroes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman and Malcom X because they stood up to injustice. “Being a Black student, I wouldn’t be able to do the things that I do now without their fight for equal rights.” Dominique is active in organizations that open doors for minorities including the Black Student Union, MESA and student government. An honor student, he also gives his time to community causes including fundraising walks and food drives. “As a child growing up, I was called selfish, and there were some situations when I did only think of myself,” Dominique acknowledged. “I like helping people. I have fun doing it, and it may seem that I do it just to benefit me, but that isn’t true. I help people because I can benefit others and because I know it’s the right thing to do.”
Joshua Flowers, Freedom
Joshua Flowers feels that helping others is his purpose in life. That’s why he volunteers for the Bosque Farms Rescue, responding to 9-1-1 calls and helping in life-saving situations. Joshua also does blood-pressure checks for senior citizens and stands by to provide first aide at rodeos. He also has been an integral part of the recycling efforts at his school. Joshua names his grandfather as the most significant person in his life. “He is always teaching me new things, encouraging me to set high goals in life,” he said. “He continually teaches me new things that make me a better person.” Joshua said the nicest compliment he has ever received was being described as a “gentleman and a scholar.” “I want to have a successful career and family and to be an active volunteer in my community,” he said of his future.
Nichole Alire, Freedom
Nichole Alire describes herself as a caring person who goes out of her way to help those in need. “I put everyone before myself and take time out of my day to make others feel better,” she said. Nichole has spent a lot of time assisting children and adults with special needs. Most Fridays she takes part in the city’s Merry Makers dance class for adults with disabilities. She also has worked in a therapeutic recreation program for children who also have disabilities. She has boxed and delivered canned goods to low-income families through her church, and at school, has been a leader for her class. “Nichole’s positive personality, her drive, and her enthusiasm to one day become a special education teacher separate her from other students,” said teacher Melanie Telles.