As the students filed into the banquet room, they were in awe. They couldn’t believe the fancy ceremony was all for them. But even more in awe were the attendees who were truly inspired by their remarkable achievements.
The Sequoia Awards honors outstanding Redwood City student volunteers, a community volunteer and a business for their dedicated service. This year, 24 students received $5,000 towards college costs, and the outstanding student volunteer, Alison Logia, received $10,000 sponsored generously by numerous individuals and businesses.
“You never do community service wanting recognition,” Logia said. “So this is all really exciting.”
As each student’s volunteer achievements were announced, the room burst into applause, coupled with astonishment at how each student’s passion could translate to so much achievement.
“This is a premiere event for our city,” said Mayor Alicia Aguirre. “It shows what fabulous volunteers we have that are so committed to giving back to our community, and it’s one of my most cherished boards that I sit on.”
Going Against the Grain, Paving the Way for Others
Logia comes from a line of Sequoia Award winners, so volunteerism was something engrained in her from early childhood.
Her father, Jerry, had always told her that volunteering was a way of life, that buying material things couldn’t give her the fulfillment that volunteering could.
The senior took a leadership role as the president of the service organization, Key Club, where she coordinated many events for her peers. She organized a Christmas event for the children of inmates at the County jail, aware that these children couldn’t have a “real” Christmas with their families.
“Seeing the smiles on their faces when they saw Santa was amazing,” she said.
As a bisexual, Logia worked with the Bay Area Youth Summit to stop LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) harassment and bullying. Though she had never felt discrimination, she said, she knew what it was like to feel different.
Volunteering has become such an integral part of her life, chalking up over 1000 hours with the Key Club and 360 hours with the Redwood City Community Theater. She plans to continue volunteering when she attends Stanford University in the fall with a major in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Applied Mathematics.
Though her family doesn’t come from a prominent background, Logia said it was important to identify needs in the community and work to fix them.
A Whole Army of Volunteers
Mayerlin Genchi began volunteering simply by being a great older sister. Her 5-year-old brother started kindergarten when Genchi was just 13, and she wanted to quell his fear of attending school. She then volunteered as a teacher’s assistant and continues this day even though her brother is now 11.
The Woodside High senior said the best part about working with kids is the true ability to change lives. She recalled her student, Carlos, who refused to learn and acted out in class to get attention. Rather than giving in to his tantrums, Genchi channeled this need for attention into a positive opportunity. She would give extra tutoring attention to Carlos and helped him uncover his academic potential.
And she does it all while caring for her three-year-old son, Andrew.
Abhineet Ram also knows what it’s like to completely change a life. Ram was volunteering as a tutor for a student, Victor, but became much more than just a tutor. He voluntarily met with Victor mornings at 7 a.m. and helped him avoid failing classes and achieve a B average. Victor even joined the track team, in which Ram ran varsity for three years. Ram also played varsity football for three years and maintains over a 4.0 average.
He also started a peer-mentoring group with fellow Sequoia Award winner Elise Levin-Guracar. The value of working with a peer was so much more powerful, she said.
“Teachers would come up to us and thank us saying, ‘they actually come to school now!’” Levin-Guracar said. Her dedication to volunteering was contagious and she was able to sign up 50 other classmates to become mentors.
The winners’ passions for helping others ranged from the very young to the elderly, as Abigail Faisal demonstrated. While she has volunteered hundreds of hours with young girls to teach them the importance of fitness, she also focuses her efforts on familiarizing the elderly with technology, like Skype, so they can stay connected to their families.
“They are my hope for the future,” said Assemblymember Jerry Hill of these students.
Other winners include Joab Camarena, Alexis Cañus, Seema Chaudhry, Tiffani DelReal Duran, Itzel Diaz, Vinoj Govinthasamy, , Samuel Hession, Daniel Jude, Mike Keenan, Kathryn Kelly, Rachel Lin, Mackenzie O'Holleran, Meghana Ravikumar, Flor Rivera, Mayra Sainz, Galilea Silva, Julianna Small, Sabrina Smith and Avi Vigdorchik.
A For-Profit Doing Non-Profit Work
is a family-owned business that serves several cities including Redwood City. Aside from providing food for families, David Chavez never hesitates to donate to multiple organizations and sponsor events.
Since they opened in 1984, they began donating meals to events at Garfield Elementary School, , and the Eastside Preparatory School.
“It’s so incredible to see the diversity of volunteers that we have,” Aguirre said. “By [Chavez Markets] paving the way, there are others who see that they too can give back to the community in many ways.”
For the annual festival in September, the family proudly partners with Redwood City International to celebrate Mexican Independence. Chavez Supermarkets also supports the ’s scholarship-fundraising program, which to build confidence and motivation.
They also support the Bay Area Gardeners Foundation, which to young people.
“They are a hardworking family with local roots,” said a neighbor. “They represent that perseverance and hard work leads to success – a success which the family Chavez are always willing to share with the community.”
Richard Valente was awarded the Outstanding Individual Award for his unique ability to spread cheer and smiles with his “Happy Cart” at . Read more about his story .
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