Santa Ynez Valley Union High School is turning out winners in the form of authors, nonprofit organizers and community volunteers, four of whom have been awarded the 2018 Santa Ynez Valley Youth in Service Award.
The Santa Ynez Valley Foundation and Santa Ynez Valley News have selected Alyssa Antoci, Samantha Garcia, Ella Hoose, and Ariana Avila Torres for the honor which will be celebrated at a gala dinner March 24 at Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton.
The Valley Foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of people in the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos by investing in programs that feed the poor, promote health, nurture seniors, challenge youth and inspire the community to make a difference.
The foundation and newspaper created the youth award in 2012 as an extension of the Man and Woman of the Year program established in 1995. The youth award honors student in grades nine through 12 for outstanding services to others.
In addition to recognition plaques, each youth honoree will receive a $1,000 scholarship to be used for postsecondary education.
Here’s a look at this year’s youth standouts:
What started as a seventh-grade community service assignment has turned into a passion for 15-year-old Ella Hoose. The SYVUHS freshman dedicates time and service to the Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program at Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center.
“It’s really a good feeling to have a sense you’re helping someone out and helping in their lives,” Hoose said.
Initially, Hoose chose the riding program because she loved riding horses. She has since served as a side walker assisting riders with balance as they round the arena, helped with lessons, groomed, scooped manure and filled needs as they arise.
“It started as an assignment, but I fell in love with the whole program. It’s so amazing,” Hoose said.
In addition to taking care of her own horse, attending classes, doing homework and living the life of a teen, Hoose dedicates just under two hours each week to the center.
“At first, I thought, ‘If I have to volunteer, I might as well volunteer here.’ I never thought it would blossom into what it’s become. I never thought I’d receive anything except fulfilling my volunteer hours. Now I understand volunteering, want to give back to the community and enjoy the sense of giving back to people,” Hoose said.
Hoose also participates in YMCA’s Youth in Government program, National Charity League, shelves books at Solvang Library and serves as a Solvang Festival Theatre red coat volunteer.
“I don’t think enough teens volunteer. They get in whatever they need to for their grade, but what we really should be thinking about is a way to give back to the community to fulfill yourself,” Hoose said.
Ariana Avila Torres
When Ariana Avila Torres was in fifth grade, she set one big goal for herself: to change the world. Specifically, she wanted to volunteer in Africa.
Now 17, Avila Torres has achieved her dream through a partnership between SYVUHS Make Cents Club and the Jesse Rohde Foundation. Last summer she joined other students and the foundation for a trip to Ghana to distribute mosquito nets and offer health insurance.
“It was a dream come true,” she said.
The trip was funded, in no small part, by the community through donations made at change collection jars set out at businesses and other locations throughout the valley.
Next, she plans to establish her own foundation, build a school in Africa, study elementary education, earn her multi-subject teaching credential, and someday teach at her own school in Africa.
“I want to provide education and build schools for underprivileged kids. I want to focus on helping people at a young age,” Avila Torres said.
To raise money for her next project, the avid young photographer is offering photo shoots for donations. Find her on Instagram at @ariianaaziila.
Samantha Garcia, a senior at Santa Ynez Valley High School, was just 15 when she dreamed up her first nonprofit organization. Now 17, looking forward to graduating high school and moving on to Santa Barbara City College, she is the founder of the Santa Ynez Teen Arts Foundation.
“I wanted to create a foundation for other students like me who are very interested in arts, who don’t have the resources or finances to explore art,” Garcia said.
The foundation provides tuition-free art classes for Santa Ynez Valley youth ages 13 to 18. Supplies are also free for participating teens.
“As young artists, the better material you have, the better art you’ll come out with. It’s so amazing to see students thrive with a change as simple as going from normal colored pencils you can buy at Target to nice colored pencils that are too expensive for a lot of teens to get on their own. It’s amazing to see how they feel. They feel like they’re capable, not babies anymore,” Garcia said.
Santa Ynez Teen Arts Foundation, founded under the umbrella of the Santa Barbara Foundation, recently received a $3,000 grant from Santa Ynez Valley Foundation. Garcia hopes to use a portion of those funds to bring back a glassblower, a hit among the teen crowd.
Additional courses have included oil painting; watercolor painting; acrylics; ceramics; and Chinese calligraphy.
“I definitely want to leave my footprint for other kids like me, outcasts in middle school and high school, who find art to be an outlet. The valley is a great place to grow up. I’m grateful to have grown up here, but there’s so much more in the world. I want to give students and others like me an opportunity to explore that, whether it’s starting in a tiny art classroom or meeting an art teacher with good credentials and continuing under their wings,” Garcia said.
“Whatever happens to it, I’m proud of it. I don’t think there’s anything in the Valley quite like it,” she said.
Find SYVTeenArts on Instagram.
Alyssa Antoci was just 8 years old when she started writing her first book. Now that published title,“The Purple Marble,” serves as a teaching tool for anti-bullying campaigns in more than 200 schools throughout the United States and Great Britain. In 2018, it was adapted for musical theater by PCPA’s Outreach Program.
With her mother, Tiffany Salerno-Antoci, Alyssa founded Strength Behind Stars, a nonprofit striving to integrate “The Purple Marble” and anti-bullying efforts into grade schools across the nation.
“I wrote The Purple Marble because I wanted to share a family member's horrific bullying story, not knowing I would be here today standing up for the larger movement it has become,” Antoci said.
“The best part about what I do is when I hear back from kids about how much my book and I have helped them,” she said. “Giving my time and effort to help and teach younger kids about how to stick up for themselves and letting them know they are not alone feels so fulfilling.”
In addition, Alyssa is co-founder of Just a Little Cloth children’s charity, a member of The Ability Awareness Project, kindness ambassador for The Great Kindness Challenger, and participates in rodeo through various associations.