Santa Ynez Valley Youth in Service Award honoree Ashley Flores Aguiniga has performed as a cheerleader and athlete, student and volunteer at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, but her first love is her family.

“I know a lot of people say that, but my family really means the world to me. My mom and dad grew up with not a lot and they work so hard. Knowing that I can one day give them back everything motivates me,” Flores Aguiniga said.

Next year she’ll be the first member of her family to head off to college. At Pace University in New York City, she plans to study business administration and management entrepreneurship. Ultimately, she aspires to start her own make-up brand and be chief executive officer of her own company.

“I know New York is far away from our little valley, but I know that by going, by doing this program, I’ll be able to give back to my parents later in life,” Flores Aguiniga said.

The road to Pace has been rich with volunteerism, from taking care of her cousins and younger siblings, to giving back to her high school community.

“I dedicate time to volunteering because there’s no greater feeling than knowing you helped someone other than yourself. You can just go to school, but when you help someone else and see that smile at the end, it makes it all worth it,” she explained.

According to high school guidance counselor Alfonso Gonzalez, Flores Aguiniga quickly became entrenched in the high school’s various activities. She joined Organization of Latino & Americans (OLA) her freshman year, then became its representative to the Associated Student Body, on which she has also served as vice president. She also serves as the vice president of OLA and reporter for OLA Seniors, a separate club entirely for seniors.

“I got involved in ASB and figured out, wow, I can help make amazing dances and help with Toys 4 Tots and the canned food drive for People Helping People. You can do so much,” she said.

In addition, Flores Aguiniga has been involved in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) all four years of high school which she served as reporter, three years of cheerleading and a year of water polo. She is a member of the National Honors Society, and participated last year in Global Leadership Connections.

In the larger community, she has served as a Salvation Army bell-ringer four years and is quick to help any puppies in need.

“I feel like people, especially in school, should get involved because it makes your high school experience so much greater. It means a lot to the people you’re helping, too,” she said.

Flores Aguiniga credits her volunteer spirit to being the oldest grandchild and oldest child in a busy, loving family. Helping out around the house was ingrained in her early on, and that mentality has expanded into the larger world.

“Whenever you’re open minded, you can find opportunities to help other people,” she said. “Time management plays a lot into it. I just try to be really organized in my schedule so I can make my family proud and still take care of the siblings. It helps to keep calm and know I can do it, in the end.”

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