Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh has named 33 students as this year’s Mayor’s Top Teens. The program honors teens who have demonstrated a strong commitment to serving others, overcome adversity or unique obstacles in life, achieved a significant accomplishment, or served as positive role models for their peers.
As in past years, the nearly three dozen Modesto City Schools students were nominated by their teachers, counselors, coaches, and others, said Loree Lee, program director for the Mayor’s Top Teens. “They are all very remarkable in their dedication to serving others. What makes them stand out even further is they’ve all overcome some sort of obstacle and have still achieved academic success.”
The following are excerpts from biographies used in selecting the honorees. Seventeen of the students are featured today; the remaining 16 will be featured in next week’s Buzzz.
Haley Engle – Johansen High School senior
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Haley already has demonstrated a life of service. She is known to offer a helping hand to anyone who needs assistance. She has volunteered four years to FFA, as well as St. Mary’s Food Bank, three years to Christ Lutheran Church, and many, many other agencies, organizations and events, such as her time as the Children’s Activity Station Leader at Johansen’s Concert at the Park.
In FFA, where she served as a chapter officer, Haley earned a proficiency award in diversified livestock production. She also enjoys baseball, volleyball and cheerleading at her high school. In her spare time, Haley is an advocate for the importance of Western heritage and the professional sport of rodeo.
Philip Gaines – Modesto High School senior
Philip isn’t the kind of person to let fear – or anything – stop him. As a freshman, he purposely stepped out of his comfort zone by enrolling in Mock Trial, where he is both an exceptional competitor and role model. As a member of the International Baccalaureate program, he maintains a stellar GPA, ranking among the top students in a class of 524 seniors. Philip also participates in the Library Advisory Board and the Latino Round Table, where he channels his efforts to reduce teen dropout rates and encourages others to seek tertiary education.
Outside of school, Philip volunteers at a local hospital, where he has dedicated his time for four years. He is very active in his church, where he serves in both the music and health ministries.
Maria Go – Modesto High School senior
Maria was born in the Philippines, moving to the United States at age 7. She fluently speaks two Filipino languages and English. While living in the Philippines, she witnessed firsthand extreme poverty and hunger. The experience has inspired her to help others by becoming a doctor. At Modesto High, she is an International Baccalaureate candidate. With an outstanding GPA of 4.78, she ranks eighth among 524 students in her class. She also participates in orchestra and dance and is an active member of Project Hope, an organization that raises funds for African schools.
Maria volunteers her time at a local hospital, where she serves as a crew leader and receptionist. She assists with fundraisers and baby-sits for Families for Vocation and Healing Ministry, and helps each year at the Our Lady of Fatima Fall Festival.
Monica Gonzalez – Modesto High School senior
Monica is described as a creative, honest, focused young woman with a strong work ethic and the drive to succeed.
She is an International Baccalaureate diploma candidate ranked 23rd in her class with a weighted 4.5 GPA. While balancing her academic pursuits with a part-time job, she has volunteered a total of 1,200 hours at a local school, tutoring children and serving as a soccer coach.
Monica also plays on her school soccer, volleyball and softball teams.
Yiwen Gu – Modesto High School senior
Yiwen is a candidate for the International Baccalaureate program and a member of the California Scholarship Federation and maintains a 4.28 GPA. She competes for her school in both tennis and swimming, and she enjoys art, music and dance.
Yiwen aspires to be a nurse. She volunteers her time at Doctors Medical Center, the Ceres Library and Modesto Gospel Mission. Yiwen is fascinated by other cultures and hopes to travel during her time as a college student.
Jocelyn Guzman – Davis High School senior
When Jocelyn was injured as a varsity cross-country and track runner, she was told she shouldn’t run anymore. But limits don’t mean much to someone like Jocelyn. She immediately took to a different sport, swimming, to allow her injuries to recover. Jocelyn continued to take on increasingly strenuous sports, including tennis and softball, challenging her body and carefully strengthening her damaged knees.
Jocelyn is involved in the student council, drama club and Key Club, and is a member of the California Scholarship Federation. She is the recipient of several academic honors, including the Scholar-Athlete Award. She was chosen to be a scholar for the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, a rigorous seven-week summer program at Princeton University.
Jocelyn has volunteered more than 200 hours of her time to various causes.
Elias Herrera – Johansen High School senior
Elias serves as a mentor for freshman and sophomore students at risk of failing, pushing them to succeed. Turning lemons into lemonade, Elias has used his own life experiences to encourage his peers to invest in themselves and their education.
His favorite classes are math and ROP landscaping and design, where he gets to assist special day students with their work – a task at which he excels. Elias serves his pastor and Amistad Cristiana congregation several days a week as an usher and as a personal security guard.
He spends his free time with friends, playing guitar or assisting others in need.
Shealyn Hermann – Modesto High School senior
Shealyn is a full International Baccalaureate student, excelling in anthropology. She plays the violin in the school orchestra, as well as the Stanislaus County Music Educators Association Orchestra. Shealyn has played in the California MEA Festival twice and has received the highest mark (superior) from the judge.
She volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club at Brown Elementary. She is currently training to run a half-marathon.
Ga-Lhiel Dillard – Central Catholic High School junior
Ga-Lhiel is extremely active on campus and has been class president since his freshman year. He has stellar leadership abilities and is a natural public speaker. He is well respected on campus and by his football and wrestling teammates. He recently helped his football team bring home a second state title.
He recently revived the Christian Athletic Association at his campus and organized the delivery of Christmas gifts to a family the club had adopted. Every summer, Ga-Lhiel travels to Seattle to volunteer at a Bible school.
Andrew Stone – Modesto High School senior
When Andrew finds something worth fighting for, he gives it his all. Perhaps that is why the state Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2013. Andrew has worked to pass a state Legislature bill allowing children easier access to medications needed while at school.
Andrew holds the rank of Life Scout and is soon to be an Eagle Scout. He is a full International Baccalaureate diploma candidate and also is part of Modesto High’s “Black Hole,” an activities club with the mission to inspire school spirit.
Toshali Katyal – Modesto High School junior
Toshali is giving her all to pursue a career in cancer research.
She is a full International Baccalaureate diploma candidate at MHS, where she serves in the ASB leadership class as vice president. She is president of the People Project and junior representative of the PHAST Club. Toshali also participates in ATGC, DNA research club and is a member of the Crimson Team in Science Olympiad.
Toshali leads a crew at Memorial Medical Center, where she has served more than 200 hours as a junior volunteer. She works with children for the Boys and Girls Club at Sylvan Elementary School. She enjoys writing and is a member of The Modesto Bee’s Teens in the Newsroom program.
Jessica Wallace – Johansen High School junior
Jessica writes poetry and has had some of her work published. She enjoys playing softball, is part of the Johansen Digital Arts and Technology Advancement pathway and is active in the Video and Technology Club, where she has helped develop numerous video productions that benefit the school and the community.
Jessica frequently volunteers at North Side Assembly of God in Turlock, assisting in the nursery and kids division.
Erika Wright – Valley Charter High School senior
Erika is active in the “Detour” group at her church and volunteers with Gleanings for the Hungry, a local faith-based nonprofit. Through the school chapter of SkillsUSA, an organization that empowers students to develop work experience, Erika has helped develop a grade structure for Great Valley Academy and helped run robotics tournaments.
She enjoys being a member of the cross country team, participates in dance and basketball.
Alexis Maldonado – Gregori High School junior
Alexis partnered with Inter-Faith Ministries to promote a Salvation Army run called “Stop Hunger in its Tracks.” She started the “Be the Change” club at her high school to promote peace and kindness toward others. This club now has over 50 members and provides assistance to local food banks and shelters.
Chosen by the school board to be Inter-High President, Alexis’ goal is to create events and opportunities for the Modesto City Schools high school students to interact and have community with one another. Alexis runs cross country, plays soccer and carries an AP schedule of classes.
Alexis’ goal is to become a neurosurgeon and join the Peace Corps.
Eduardo Cardenas – Modesto High School senior
Early in Eduardo’s freshman year, he became very ill. His recovery required a hospital stay and a prolonged absence from school. Despite this, with the help of his family, he enrolled in independent study and kept himself on track his freshman year.
Inspired by a family member’s battle with cancer, Eduardo has chosen to volunteer his efforts to victims of the disease. When he was younger he grew his hair long to donate to Locks of Love. He continues to volunteer in physical therapy of cancer patients. He also works with the Red Cross to provide first aid at events. He maintains a full IB schedule and has received the principal’s award in recognition of his academic achievements. Nominated by his teachers, he also received the Panther’s award, given to students who exhibit outstanding character. He plays water polo and has participated in the Science Olympiad and the Academic Decathlon.
Eleni Quick – Downey High School junior
Eleni is active in Girl Scouts, Greek service organizations and has provided more than 350 hours of volunteer service. She has donated her hair to Locks of Love twice.
Eleni has a 4.46 GPA in her AP classes. She obtained a perfect score on her STAR test. She has been class treasurer her freshman, sophomore and junior years. She’s received the President’s Physical Fitness award, President’s Academic Fitness award and Rotary award. She’s also a countywide math and poetry award recipient and an avid tennis and soccer player.
Emily Lehman – Central Catholic High School sophomore
Known as the “Queen of Service” at Central Catholic, Emily draws joy from helping others. She has lent her assistance to the Friends of Hospice Festival of Trees and Breakfast with Santa. Last year, she and a group of her friends coordinated a senior citizens prom for the residents of Casa de Modesto Retirement Center.
Emily plays varsity golf and is a member of several service organizations, including Key Club and Student Ambassadors.