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News from 2013-2014

Posted: March 18, 2014

Meet the 2014 Selfless Seniors

These 27 compassionate high school students will be honored during a ceremony at La Cueva High School on Thursday, March 27.

Twenty-seven  of the most giving high school seniors in Albuquerque Public Schools have been named as the 2014 Selfless Seniors.

More than 120 seniors from throughout Albuquerque were nominated by members of the community, teachers, administrators and family members, and a committee of community members made the selections based on those nominations.

The seventh annual Selfless Seniors ceremony will take place on March 27, 2014. The event is sponsored by Albuquerque photographer Frank Frost, who donates his time and skill to create beautiful portraits of each student. Those photos hang on the walls of the district’s high schools, at community businesses and also at the Albuquerque International Sunport.

“I think it’s safe to say that this was the deepest, most competitive set of nominees in Selfless Seniors history,” said APS Education Foundation Executive Director Phill Casaus. “We had several schools nominate more than 10 seniors, and when you read these nominations, you’re stunned by how giving our students really are.”

This year’s honorees include:

Brandon Gonzalez, Albuquerque High

Brandon Gonzalez gets a sense of accomplishment from helping others. “I know if I do something good for others, I’m helping their lives become better.” Brandon, who is president of his DECA chapter, has been influenced by the club’s sponsors who had tough childhoods but managed to make better lives for themselves through education and hard work. “They're my heroes because they are living proof that no matter how bad things are you are the one to change that and make your life better.” Brandon also is in cross country and track, editor of the school newspaper, and a volunteer for Ojos de la Familia and Ability Connect New Mexico.

Chantel Purcella of Albuquerque High

Chantel Purcella is inspired by her mother to help those in need. “She has always been so generous and never turns anyone away.” Chantel has learned from her mom that helping others is simply the right thing to do. Over the years, her family has provided foster care for children in need, which has helped Chantel not only realize how difficult life can be for some children, but also how fortunate she is to have a supportive family and educational opportunities. A softball player and student of photography who volunteers for Children, Youth and Families Department, she says the children she helps have taught her as well.

Gabrielle Dao, Atrisco Heritage Academy

Gabrielle Daoadmires her parents who didn’t have the same opportunities she has when they emigrated from Vietnam. “I have to take full advantage of that and I am extremely grateful that they are in my life.” She remembers a friend telling her to do the right and moral thing because it will lift the selfishness that resides in our hearts.” Last summer, Gabrielle volunteered at Paloma Blanca Nursing Home with her youth group where they sponsored a fiesta for the elderly complete with face painting, carnival games and music. Gabrielle is also involved in several activities at home including National Honor Society, MESA, tennis, Catholic Soccer League and Model United Nations.

Christopher Montalvo, Atrisco Heritage Academy

Christopher Montalvo of Atrisco Heritage Academy believes that if he can help someone, he should. “There are people who don’t have the same resources as I do. A little bit of time from my life can make a difference in theirs. That’s the beauty in helping people.”Christopher, who is active in school, church and community, is grateful to the people who have given him time in their lives, including a friend who helped him learn English when he first moved here from Panama; an uncle who taught him not to be afraid to speak his mind; and his father, who didn’t let obstacles stand in the way of achieving his goals.

Rachel Ruckman, Cibola

Rachel Ruckman learned from her parents to help others whenever the opportunity arises. “Both of my parents are teachers, and I’ve learned by example to be passionate in all that I do.” Rachel volunteers for several organizations. She is a weekly volunteer at Presbyterian Hospital and she is a Teen Ambassador for the Ronald McDonald House. In addition to these, Rachel volunteers with A Light in the Night, a community outreach program that helps the homeless. She was once inspired by a homeless man she saw in a thin jacket standing on a corner on a cold November day. His image spurred her to buy socks, hand warmers, hats, sweatshirts and blankets and distribute them to those on the street. “This experience continues to inspire me to put myself in others’ shoes and try to help them in any way I can.”

Jessie Tietgens, Cibola

Jessie Tietgens helps people so that she can make a difference. “Sometimes the smallest actions can make the largest impact. I love knowing I can somehow change a person's life for the better.” Jessie is a swimmer who gets joy from teaching children how to swim. She was honored when her classmates voted her most likely to succeed. “Being recognized by my peers caught me off guard because of the many other bright, intelligent, and deserving students at my school. This truly means a lot and it has motivated me to try even harder at everything that I do.” Jessie also is involved in honor societies, Jesus Christ Disciple Crew and yearbook.

Fayth Frankl, Del Norte

Fayth Frankl comes from a family of volunteers. “We have been involved in many organizations. We like helping people even if it’s just offering a shoulder to cry on or giving information or advice.” Fayth is a poet whose writing has been published in American Library of Poems and Albuquerque the Magazine. Her words have touched others, which has made her realize what a difference she can make. As a volunteer, she has ministered to inmates and their families, helped people in custody battles, read to children, fed the homeless, babysat children with special needs and served as a museum docent.

Mariah Garcia, Del Norte

Mariah Garcia learned at an early age that a person can’t achieve success without failure.“My mom taught me that with failure comes an opportunity to learn and grow.” Mariah says she never understood why people say “thank you” for her volunteer work. “It’s funny and odd to me that helping a person is something to be applauded. I feel that humanity's purpose in life is to care for one another, and I am doing just that.” She has volunteered through Student Senate, theater, choir, church where she is a teacher and has been an alter server for 11 years . She sang carols at elderly homes, volunteered at a food bank, taught music, participated in Christmas benefits and more.

Sarah King, Eldorado

Sarah King is most influenced by her brother Sean, who was diagnosed with autism as a small child.“Therapists kept telling my parents that Sean wouldn’t be able to do many things, but he has shown them that they were wrong.” When asked why she helps people, Sarah responds, “Why not help people? When I help others it helps me, too.” Sarah is a talented French horn player who volunteers for several organizations including Camp Rising Sun for children with autism. She’s made several mission trips including one to help repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina and another to help homeless students with special needs in San Antonio.

Montana Warner, Eldorado

Montana Warnertruly believes it is our moral duty to lend a hand. “I have had so much help and support in my life and being able to give back and do the same for more people is so rewarding.” Montana says she changed her outlook on life when she met a woman in a parking lot who was fleeing an abusive relationship. Montana gave them cash and collected books and toys for her young daughter. “The fear and sadness in this woman’s eyes was so raw and so devastating that I looked into my own life and realized how blessed I am that I don't have to undergo that kind of hardship and turmoil.”

Hannah Glasgow, Highland

Hannah Glasgow grew up conditioned by the Golden Rule: “Treat others how you want to be treated.” She says this has made her incredibly empathetic. “I can put myself into other people’s shoes pretty quickly and know how much I can help.” Hannah volunteers in the pediatric unit at Presbyterian Hospital, where playing with the sick children has taught her about perseverance and strength. One of the people she admires most is Audrey Hepburn who not only was the epitome of class and elegance, but also was a humanitarian. “She had this choice that I think everyone has in their lives, to help others or not, and she went above and beyond to make other people’s lives better.”

Rebecca Quintana, Highland

Rebecca Quintana says helping others just comes naturally to her. “Others have always come before me simply because I know there are a lot of good-hearted people who deserve better than what they have or what they get.” Rebecca volunteers with children at Rachel’s Garden at Presbyterian Hospital, where she decorates patients’ rooms, colors and plays games with the children and serves as a positive role model. “That time spent having fun, being a kid again, not only put a smile on the children’s faces, but on mine as well.” Rebecca has been praised for balancing community service with her many school activities including Student Senate, yearbook, ENLACE, volleyball and track.

Ben Petry of La Cueva

Ben Petry says his dad and mom are his inspiration and have inspired him to enjoy life and share his gifts with others. "I have been blessed with a lot, and it's fulfilling to help people and animals," he says. The tennis player volunteers through his sport including organizing the collection of used tennis balls for a local animal shelter and also helps at his church, Calvary of Albuquerque. On a trip to Israel, Ben painted buildings at the Israel Defense Force base, where he says he was inspired by the soldiers and people. He also is a professional actor who has been in eight movies and TV series filmed in New Mexico, including "3:10 to Yuma" and "Breaking Bad." A great compliment to Ben was when an international director of a film said, "I hope my kids grow up to be like you." Acting has helped him with his confidence and communication skills.

NamTran “Susie” Pham, La Cueva

NamTran “Susie” Pham admires her parents who moved from Vietnam to create a better life for her and her brothers. “Witnessing their strength and perseverance at a young age is why I'm as hard-working and driven as I am today.” Susie says her family’s struggles have motivated her to help others. “I want to help people because I hate what my family had to go through. I want to make others' lives – the ones who are going through what my parents had to go through – a little more bearable. It also makes me happier.” Susie helps by tutoring Vietnamese students as well as donating and fundraising through Key Club and Project PeacePal to name a few with which she is involved.

Juan Rivera, Manzano

Juan Rivera always has a smile on his face, no matter how hard he’s working. The happiness in his life comes in large part from his passion for music. A tenor section leader in the MHS Concert Choir and president of the a cappella choir Prestige, Juan is a role model and a supportive, calm leader who reaches out to others, making sure all feel included. “I try my hardest to help people daily, whether it's by holding a door open or buying a cup of coffee for the person behind me in line at Starbucks. Just to know somehow I'm helping, and putting a smile on someone else's face is the best feeling in the world.”

Maritza Juarez, Manzano

Maritza Juarez hasn’t been a Monarch long, having transferred to the school her senior year, but she quickly won over those who got to know her. At Highland, Maritza was active in sports including volleyball, softball, basketball, cheerleading. She also was in DECA, was a baseball and football manger and was active in the Black Student Union. As a student aide, Maritza impressed an MHS assistant principal because she helps other students with homework and computer skills while holding down at least two jobs to help her family. She is friendly and kind to all.

Ariel Otero, Rio Grande

Ariel Otero has been profoundly affected by his volunteer work with the homeless. “These people are less fortunate than me and have had a really hard life compared to mine, which makes me think that it's not all about having the coolest things but about being thankful for what you have and giving to the less fortunate.” Ariel’s hero is Yasmany Fuentes who started the South Valley Leadership Corps at Ernie Pyle Middle School, which helps kids in the community like him. Now he volunteers for the organization as well as helping out at church, participating in South Valley clean ups, feeding veterans and taking part in parades

Marlene Munoz, Rio Grande

Marlene Munoz has been influenced by her father who taught her the importance of helping others. “He taught me to never judge and to always be optimistic.” Marlene helps schoolmates with disabilities, and has become close friends with many of them. “Overall, I am the one who ends up learning more from them than they learn from me,” she says. “I’ve learned that they are the most happy, caring, loving students in our school.” Marlene also is involved in several school organizations, including Key Club, MESA, National Honor Society, Student Council, soccer and track and RAPS – Risk and Resiliency Assessment Program for Students.

Emma Talbert, Sandia

Emma Talbert quotes Gandhi when explaining why she helps others: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others." Emma was touched by a mom who thanked her with tears in her eyes when the Sandia Student Senate donated gifts to children at a HeadStart school. “That made everything I worked for worth it. It made me realize that even the smallest of things can make a difference.” Emma says her best friend for over 10 years, Caroline, is the most significant person in her life. In addition to student government, Emma is active in community service through her church and has volunteered with Special Olympics and at the school where her mother teaches.


Iesha Hocker, Sandia

Iesha Hocker stays positive even when going through trying times. “I am always positive and happy, and I try to help those who are also going through tough times to find a way to be positive.” Iesha spends more than 50 hours a month volunteering to help others study and understand the Bible. “I help people because it brings joy to me, and the Bible says there is more joy in giving than receiving,” she says. “I truly believe that, so when I am able to share or give to others, it makes me a much happier person.”

Jackie Torivio, School on Wheels

Jackie Torivio believes if you’re capable of helping others, then why not help? “Some people just need a little extra push. It’s always nice to have someone in life that encourages you to try your hardest.” Jackie, who has been described as a smart, beautiful young lady, is an admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson because he believed in individualism and self-realization. She also admires Stephen King because he has inspired her to think outside the box. Jackie plans to major in filmmaking and is part of Studio Crew Productions, an organization that focuses on audio engineering, embroidery, screen print, typography and marketing.

Theresa Atencio, Valley

Theresa Atenciohas been influenced by her Native American culture, which taught her generosity, belonging, independence and mastery. “We are taught by our elders to give with your whole heart, not expecting anything in return. I choose to help people because I think of it as giving back to the community to show I do care for people.” Theresa is especially influenced by her late grandfather, Elmer, who taught her to be brave. “Even though he isn’t here with me, I know he’s watching over me and providing me help along the way.” Theresa has volunteered in many organizations including Kids Against Hunger, Girls Scouts of New Mexico and the APS Indian Education Department.

Megan Tapia, Valley

Megan Tapia says herfaith in God has taught her love, patience and understanding. “You never know what people are really going through in life, so I help people so they can have the happiness I have,” she says. Megan on occasion will pick up the tab for a stranger’s meal. “I love knowing that someone is about to be surprised and shocked that they don't have to pay for their meal and hopefully they will want to go and do the same thing for another person.” Megan has volunteered at her church, a children’s hospital, a neighborhood school and with Operation Smile.

Nicole Hensley, Volcano Vista

Nicole Hensley volunteers in a kindergarten classroom as often as possible. She works with students who need extra help, including those who speak English as a second language. Nicole also is involved in the Wing Squad, an organization designed to help the community through work in many areas including community cleanup, tutoring and fundraising for charity. Among her influences is art teacher Peggy Trigg, who has taught her that art isn’t about impressing people, but is for the artists themselves. “She has helped give me confidence in my work by teaching me that as long as I like my work that’s what matters.” Nicole also is a musician, thespian and participates in National Honor Society.

Ryan Meurer, Volcano Vista

Ryan Meurercredits his mom for pushing him to do things he wouldn’t normally do, only to find out he really likes doing them. “I help people because I was always taught that it was the right thing to do. And most of all, I do it because I truly love it.” Ryan is a musician and athlete who swims, runs, plays baseball and soccer. He was profoundly affected by his weekly visits with his grandmother as she battled bone cancer. “We’d just talk or play cards or anything that would help her forget about the cancer and just have fun for a few hours. She taught me that in the long run pushing through the pain is worth it.”

Jorge Salinas, West Mesa

Jorge Salinas knows what it’s like to go through hard times, so he helps others overcome challenges that get in the way of reaching their dreams. “There are many people who will knock them down. I want to get them standing again so that they can prove those people wrong.” Jorge is active in church, community and school including JROTC, Student Senate, MESA, National Honor Society, soccer, football and tennis. He’s been described as nice, honest and hard-working. “I will always do anything that will help others, and I don’t stop until the job is done. I can truly say that I go far and beyond from what is expected.”

Javier Venzor of West Mesa

Javier Venzor says his mother has taught him to be optimistic and compassionate. These values came into play recently when he was on a city bus with an elderly couple who missed their stop but couldn’t ask for help because they didn’t speak English. Javier served as translator between them and the bus driver and also paid their fare so they could get to their destination. “I was inspired to help because if it had been my parents in that situation, I would have appreciated if somebody came to their rescue. Throughout these past few years that I've learned to speak English, I have always tried to help those who do not know the language.”

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