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Selfless Seniors

2021 Selfless Seniors will be announced in December 2020

Since 2008, photographer Frank Frost has partnered with the Foundation to recognize seniors in high school who have selflessly given back to their communities, usually without recognition or praise. These young adults have already made a difference in their schools and neighborhoods and inspire their peers and all of us to do the same.

Selections are made by a committee of community partners and volunteers, and the decision is not an easy one. Each Selfless Senior not only represents themselves and their families, but the amazing work of countless high school students who are making a positive difference in our city each and every day.

In their own words, the 2020 Selfless Seniors talk a little about themselves and discuss how and why they give back to their schools and our community.

Mercy Mummert,
Albuquerque High School
Mercedes Mummert

“I am a proud Bulldog - loyal, fun and kind. During my sophomore year, I quietly presented my teacher with a care package when that teacher returned to school after a tragic life event, and as the current student body secretary, I lead the charge in rallying the Bulldogs for activities in and out of school - school assemblies, sports events, drama performances, and more. I encourage my peers through hard work and perseverance in my classes and in all activities that I am a part of - captain of varsity soccer, swimming, and track/field teams; MESA club member; and peer tutor. I intend to pursue a career in pediatric physical therapy. I had my own physical therapy journey starting with major back surgery at the start of my junior year. My own personal experience at UNM's Carrie Tingley Hospital led me to volunteer every Tuesday and Thursday with the pediatric physical therapy teams at the inpatient and outpatient units. I know that I am blessed with many opportunities and I plan to continue to work diligently to help and encourages others.

Daniel Benitez de Luna,
Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

"'But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek turn the other to him also.' - Matthew 5:39. This is the ideology I try to enact day in and day out. Throughout the past four years, I've dedicated myself to not only helping lower-income, minority-based communities but also to teaching young men of color how to advocate for their own rights. It hasn't been an easy road, there have been many moments where I am frustrated, where I want to quit, where I feel that the work that I'm pursuing is useless and in hindsight won't help anyone, but then I remember that quote. 'But whoever slaps you on the right cheek turn the other to him also'. To me this quote means much more than not enacting revenge. This quote speaks to me by allowing me to forgive, it allows me to accept the decisions and outcomes that are out of my control and to progress because there will be many times where I fail in serving the young men of color I work for, but never will I give up to continue my cause in helping the people who don't have a voice to create an impact in their community."

Melina Moreno,
Cibola High School

“Has there ever been a time where you felt like there was no need for you? Like no one would react if you suddenly disappeared without a trace? That was how I felt this past summer. My friend group split in half and left all those involved in emotional ruin. Losing your closest friends to a misunderstanding is unbearably unfair. I already lost plenty of friends in my time and it never got easier but for some reason, this hurt the most. I ended up feeling exhausted all the time, I felt numb and at times I would imagine what would be everyone’s reaction if I evaporated into thin air. ‘I tried to describe it once: a clock gear. Do I do stuff, day to day? Yeah. But I can always be replaced, or be taken out. I’m not special, and if I were to disappear, I would be forgotten by 99% of people’-Anonymous. However, it was for that one percent I blocked out those thoughts of disappearing. At times I still wake up numb and I feel like a waste of space. It has been hard coming to school where no one notices I’m not okay. I wasn’t myself for four months and no one noticed. When my friend Sammy asked how I was doing I almost cried because someone cared. I’m fully aware my mom, dad, and best friend all love me dearly and care a great deal about me, however, hearing ‘are you okay’ in person was truly touching. As the school year went by I grew a stronger connection with the friends I still had and I even managed to somehow get a boyfriend. Things are getting better. I’m not gonna lie and say I’m not sad anymore and I’m living carefree. Healing takes time. At times I still wake up feeling unwanted and numb, but it’s getting better. I know I have people who love me and you should know you have people too. It’s not easy forcing a smile when you want to break down so don’t hide it. Confide in someone, that can be a close friend, family member, teacher, or counselor. Just know someone out there loves you and you were never a waste of time or space.”

Juan Murguia,
Del Norte High School

“Hello! My name is Juan Murguia and I am a proud Del Norte knight. I apologize for my awkwardness, but I really don’t know what to say. I’ve never written anything like this before. I want to thank my nominator for allowing me to be a part of something as wonderful as this. I would also like to thank my teachers and church for helping make this possible. I almost feel wrong for writing this because I don't want it to seem like I am boasting, but I cannot tell you how happy it makes me feel to know that I am getting recognized for community service. I have been trying to help in my community as much as possible. I first started doing community service in the 7th grade and continued from there. I am constantly busy and it makes me happy to know that I am able to help my community and those around me. I have read all of the Selfless Senior statements on this page and I can't explain how happy it makes me hear that even though all of the hardships that some of my peers have gone through, they fought through and still helped out in their communities. I find their stories amazing and would like to thank them all. I don’t like talking too much about myself but I would like to thank those who helped me with this recognition and thank those of you that were also selected a Selfless Senior for being the amazing selfless people that you are! I am very excited I get to meet you all!”

Mia Jae Tafoya,
Eldorado High School

“Ever since I was a little girl, my aunt would always ask me what my random act of kindness was for the day. With four years in high school full of wonderful memories, laughter, and joy, I realized how important random acts of kindness really are. At the end of my freshman year, I was invited to go on the Reality Project. I traveled to Oklahoma with 50 peers and we volunteered in community centers providing for those less fortunate than us. My sophomore year I worked with Breaking the Silence New Mexico. Their vision was to break the stigma built around mental illness/health and suicide. This work really captured my heart, because my grandfather took his life in 2002. During my sophomore year the class of 2020 lost a treasured classmate. This loss encouraged me to continue my quest to bring awareness of mental health issues and suicide. My junior year in high school our class lost another dear friend and classmate to suicide. This was when I knew we couldn't keep ignoring this issue that was arising and I knew I needed to support my community at Eldorado High School. In my senior year, my goal and mission was to create more mental health services available to APS. I was part of a group of over 100 Eldorado students who talked to APS Board of Education members about Eldorado and other schools around our district. Within the first month we made a lot of strong connections that led to great accomplishments. Sadly this year we also lost two more classmates to suicide. These tragedies pushed me to create a student-led task force. We fought for and received a wellness room at Eldorado and a permanent professional therapist. Thinking back now, I would have never thought that I would have had to face this adversity throughout my four years of high school. But, with the support of my family, friends, and the community of Eldorado High School we have all gotten through these challenges together, which has made us all stronger, and given me the drive to continue to make a difference now and for years to come.”

Ebuela Shindano,
Highland High School

“My name is Ebuela Shindano. I come from Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I came to the U.S in 2016. I speak three languages, which are Kibembe, my native language, Swahili and English. I love to work with young men of color, and it is something that I have done and am still doing. I joined Together for Brothers in 2018. I started as a Youth Leader, later on I became a Youth Organizer. Later the same year another guy and I started leading a small group of 10 people at Highland High School. I got my friends involved in that program as well. It was a big challenge for us because most of them were unable to speak English and were speaking different languages. Also, they didn’t have transportation. Then later on we came up with ideas to get them bus passes, as well as for other young men of color who had trouble with transportation. For the first time, we met with APS, and we talked about transportation. I used myself as an example because I used to take the city bus every morning to get to school. Also, we talked about providing elementary school kids a school bus. For those living far from school they used to walk alone to school, which was an unsafe place for them to walk. Later on we went to the Mayor’s office to talk with him and told him how the bus passes are very important for young men of color. Like me at that time, I was unable to go where I wanted to go, like attending youth meetings, going to church, and even attending soccer practice and other activities. The bus pass was the only solution for all of that. I used myself as an example to explain and show him how important the bus is for young men of color. We got about 700 bus passes to help young men of color. We passed out the bus passes, and each of them got two bus passes for two months. We did the same as well in 2019 and gave away each young man of color one bus pass for a hundred days. We made a survey as well to see how those bus passes helped them. We succeeded with that, and those bus passes helped them a lot. We still look forward to see how we can help with that. We are not looking to get a one-month bus pass or a hundred-day bus pass either, but we want to get something that will help them all the time when needed. Additionally, I started working in the International District as a youth partner. Also, I was a part of Future Men, which was our project to help children with their homework. I also help Newcomers in my school who speak the same language as me.”

Haley Hughes,
La Cueva High School

“Hello, my name is Haley Hughes. I feel very blessed to receive this award and am so grateful for all of the people who have supported me throughout my time in high school. As a student, I have had the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities and be involved in a number of organizations at my school. I have been heavily involved in my school’s Make-A-Wish Club and have worked to help raise money to grant the wishes of terminally ill or seriously ill children in New Mexico. I understand that illness can have a drastic impact on an entire family; through the Make-A-Wish club, I have been able to observe the contagious nature of kindness as my school community comes together to benefit our ‘wish-child’ each year. I also enjoy volunteering with sufferers of dementia at Mayberry Senior Services, reading to elementary school students through the La Cueva Athlete Reading Program, and being involved with the youth group at my church. I believe that other people are important and should be treated kindly. Philippians 2:4 says, ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ I aim to apply this verse both to my life and my interactions with others. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had as a student, this wonderful award, and the people who make it happen.”

Kate Anderson,
Manzano High School

“Hello, my name is Kate Anderson, and I am the third oldest of eleven kids. My favorite quote that I say is “good morning”. If you’re having a bad day, start it over and say good morning! I believe that every dark side has a bright side, because you can’t have darkness without the light, you just have to look for it. My dream is to open up my own bakery, and run the business on my own. That’s why I’m in the DECA program at Manzano High School. I also have been taking the culinary arts program for the past three years. During my freshman year of high school, I designed and built a smart farm. It’s a vertical hydroponic system to help agricultural advancement. My other activities include the Manzano Royal Guard Marching Band, tutoring my peers, and my job at Fuddruckers. I’m one of the head cooks over there, and I work over 20 hours a week. In the community, I have participated in gathering donations for Goodwill through our AVID program and helped with litter clean up.”

Patricia Sotelo Chavira,
Rio Grande High School

“My name is Patricia Sotelo Chavira and I have worked towards many of my goals during high school. I have earned the opportunity at working at Sandia Labs as a chemistry intern and I have taken on a leadership role in my local community. By taking on a leadership role in my school, I have primarily taken on the responsibility of leading by my personal example. In doing this, I hope to inspire my fellow peers to try and accomplish their goals. As President of the National Honor Society, I have helped organize several community service projects to help those in need. When I graduate, I hope to continue to be involved in my local community.”

Aleksia Minetos,
Sandia High School

“Over the course of my high school career, I always had a set idea of what the term ‘community service’ meant. Community service really just meant service to me, which was helping others and volunteering. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the incredible nonprofit and philanthropic sector of New Mexico, where I met an amazing array of New Mexicans who taught me to put the “community” back in community service. After seeing the endless work they were doing to help improve the City of Albuquerque, I couldn’t help but feel proud and excited about what this community actually is. Through participating in the Community Builders Program and interning with Swimming with Elephants publications, I saw how the nonprofit sector creates a sense of community, which is through combining forces to unite and support one another. Through the opportunities I have been given, I have learned you need community, just as much as you need service. I’m thankful for being able to work with the nonprofit and philanthropic sector and all the work they do because it’s brought me closer with my community and given me direction for what I want to do later in life, which is to join these leaders in their efforts to turn Albuquerque into a community to be proud of.”

Esparanza Biggs,
Valley High School

“I hate to brag and find it hard to talk about myself. Most people know me for being a straight ‘A’ student and taking pride in my academics. I’m also known for my passion for dance and have been dancing since I was a year and a half. I am active in my school and community including being the President of the National Honor Society, an officer in Student Senate, and the President of the Valley Academy where I have led many community service activities. I am also a Peer Buddy in the Best Buddies Program. I was awarded the Chiefs Cup from Albuquerque Police Department for my community service and continue each summer to volunteer with them in their Camp Fearless program. After meeting my friend that was deaf I was inspired to start taking sign language classes at UNM as a dual credit student, and volunteer at one of the deaf schools here in Albuquerque. One of my biggest passions is advocating and bringing awareness to various cancers and closest to my heart, Congenital Heart Defects (CHD). My godbrother passed away after two weeks of birth from CHD. These passions have led me to want to pursue a DNP in Neonatal Nursing with a minor in sign language. After high school, I plan on attending Arizona State University where I have been accepted into the Nursing Program.”

Zachary Josh Khieu,
Volcano Vista High School

“During my four years at Volcano Vista High School, I have grown to become someone I never imagined I would be. My freshman year, when I first walked in through the doors, I was a very timid, unpopular, yet enthusiastic kid. My older brother and sister gave me this advice: ‘Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.’ But who was I? And what group did I belong to? For two years I tried comparing myself to everyone around me, seeing how people behaved and the outcome that led from it. Doing this not only helped me to discover what made me unique but it also helped me to see many problems in school that most people overlooked or didn’t care about. What bothered me the most was seeing seniors who had not attended even one sports game, drama show, or joined one club. I saw it was the students who weren’t active or had no school spirit who would drop out or earn consistent D’s and C’s. These students went through some of the most important years of their lives miserable. I passed by students at lunch who kept to themselves, never speaking to anyone, even during class. Even teachers and custodians were unhappy nearly every day which obviously negatively affects the learning process. My junior year I decided to do something about it. I was elected Vice President of the Asian Student Union and Vice President of Career Development in DECA. We encouraged a culture that promoted school spirit for all students, trying to make them look forward to coming to school. I also started to interact with all the other club and sports leaders seeing how they affected student life. I started to dedicate my time in school towards making all students have fun at school, because it was the happy students and teachers who performed the best. Everyday over the announcements we hear the school slogan, ‘It’s great to be a Hawk!’ but most kids never believed that. Eventually I ran for Student Body President hoping to change the atmosphere so students and staff could come to school looking forward to their day. Even though I lost the election I didn’t give up. As Student Body Treasurer, National Honors Society President, DECA Class Officer, as well as participating in other clubs and extracurricular activities it remains my purpose to make four years of a student’s life more memorable. Volcano Vista High School will always be a beautiful memory in my life. I am grateful for all the teachers, staff, and students who have made me who I am today. For me, and many students, it will always be great to be a Hawk!”

Juan Clark,
West Mesa High School

“I have gone through a lot in the past several years. On June 15, 2015, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L) and overcame it a few months later in February of 2016. My doctors told my parents that they could not do anything for me anymore because the treatment was not working, but one of my doctors refused to give up on me, which is why I am still here today. It was one of the toughest times of my life. I have always put others before myself, so when I was the one needing help it was a shock for me. However seeing how sad people were in the hospital for their kids and seeing my parents trying everything to heal me, I decided that if and when I survived this, I would do everything I could to make the most of my life for those who fought for me and for those who lost their loved ones. My parents and siblings were my biggest reason to fight, however, they were not the only ones who gave me hope. One major group of people that gave me a purpose to fight besides my family were the instructors and cadets from West Mesa’s NJROTC unit. They went above and beyond to make me feel like I was a part of their ROTC family by sending me letters, video calling me, and even visiting me in the hospital. I had to work hard to get my health back to normal and to get my life back on track, but I could not have done it without my family, both my blood family and my ROTC family. I have had many opportunities to help my community and those who need help, and I have taken every opportunity that I could. I know that even the smallest amount of kindness can be the difference between giving up and moving forward, life and death, because for me it was. I was raised to help people, be strong, courageous, devoted, honest, loyal, respectful, loving, kind, to have honor and to be selfless. I hope I can influence others to do better, to pursue their goals and to never give up.”

Isabella Reitz,
College & Career High School

“I have always had an unwavering passion for being on the frontlines of change in my community. Throughout the week, I am usually volunteering at Street Safe New Mexico, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping trafficking victims in Albuquerque. I strive to welcome and get to know the women that come to outreach. And between helping to run outreach and Street Safe’s drop-in center, educating the public about the trafficking crisis in New Mexico, and fundraising money, I have also co-founded a social action club at my high school. I help to inform my peers about social issues and spearhead volunteer events throughout the city. I also volunteer my time helping to boost the self-esteem of younger girls and helping to tutor refugees. It is my dream to continue serving my community as a doctor and pursuing my passion for outreach work.”

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