Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Education

Athena Society's Young Women of Promise challenge, inspire

The highlights I chose to praise the 10 winners of the Athena Society's Dr. Sylvia Richardson Young Women of Promise award changed each time I told someone about Thursday's inspiring luncheon.

In one setting, I spoke of the courage of these 10 remarkable high school juniors by explaining how Leto High's Ana Gomez not only revealed that bouts with homelessness and domestic abuse dot her past, but how she challenged this impressive room of accomplished women.

"When you recognize pain in this world, do something about it," Ana said.

Asked by someone else about the events of the day, I shared how Plant High's Sarah Cimino founded her own nonprofit after witnessing unbelievable poverty on a mission trip to Haiti. After Teens for Haiti raised more than $12,000, a new generator powers an entire Haitian village.

"It was incredible to see my work and the work of all my friends," Sarah said. "I love that I was able to help, but this was God's work. I'm just His hands and feet."

Hours later, I began my story with the perseverance of Steinbrenner High's Isabella Puppa, whose difficulty with food allergies eventually reached a life-threatening stage two years ago with the recognition that she can't eat fruit, nuts, wheat, soy, corn, rice, barley, oats and peas. Isabella joked she can settle a debate, saying that tomatoes must be a fruit because she's also allergic to them.

However, Isabella focuses on turning her Girl Scouts Gold Star project into an effort that will aide others with food allergies.

"As Aristotle said, 'It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light,' " Isabella said. "That's exactly what I intend to do."

I could go on and on. And on. The steely determination of Middleton's Alicia Bishop, who strives to succeed in the male-dominated field of engineering, the giving soul of King High's Briana Bursten, who works at a camp for underserved kids and the activism of Berkeley Prep's Emily Harwell, who helped promote a Thursday night screening of the groundbreaking documentary Girl Rising all left an impression.

These aren't ladies squeezing in volunteer hours between days at the beach. Consider their summer plans: Robinson's Kailey Fernandez again will partner with her sister to run the summer camp they started four years ago; Plant City's Kellyanne Hurst will attend a summer seminar for students aiming to enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy in 2014.

The paths each took to greatness varies, but their progress typically involved overcoming obstacles and succeeding in varying fields. Freedom High's Laury Rivera-Adorno overcame an early language barrier as an immigrant and illness in her family to develop into an honor student. Academy of the Holy Names' Gabrielle Madden shared an amusing story about her work with robotics, not even bothering to mention she's also an award-winning poet.

As the days go by, I'll continue to talk about the perseverance, intelligence, commitment, achievement and care displayed by all of these ladies. I'm truly awed, especially when I consider my own trials and tribulations as a 17-year-old. My greatest struggle? Algebra II. My greatest achievement? Getting my license.

While I celebrated the wonders of Dairy Queen's Peanut Buster Parfait back then, they celebrate impacting lives, stratospheric grades and futures full of hope.

"I wish you a lifetime of production, fulfilment and love," said Richardson, the matriarch of the 33-year-old program. "And if you have the latter, you'll have everything else."

Yes, they walked into the Centre Club Thursday with promise, but they delivered inspiration.

They always do.

That's all I'm saying.

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