With its moped-crowded dirt roads, small homes with tin roofs and beautiful, smiling people, an impoverished Dominican Republican town will forever shape Abby Taub's philanthropic outlook on life.
The Plant High junior's high academic achievements and willingness to help others has led the prestigious Athena Society to name her one of its 2010 Young Women of Promise. The group, a veritable who's who of female leaders, annually honors 10 high school junior girls who show the potential to make extraordinary contributions to society in future years.
Abby's path to becoming a woman of promise began with a trip to El Caribe in the Dominican Republic, where she worked with Eric and Lyris Newman's Cigar Family Charitable Foundation to address substandard conditions. Through the foundation, Abby helped build filtered water stations for residents, and the people built up her appreciation for life back in Tampa.
"I was in shock," Abby told society members at an April 1 luncheon. "I was invited into one of the nicer homes in the village. The floors were dirt. Long-hanging blankets were used for doors. Three children shared one twin-sized bed. Their bathroom was an outhouse in the back yard, and they had a TV in their living room area."
The gratitude of the residents, who hugged and kissed Abby and the other workers, gave her a tremendous sense of personal fulfillment. She went on to involve herself in a number of community pursuits, including Cooking For A Cause, a nonprofit she formed to teach culinary skills to peers. The class concludes with the students preparing a complete meal for 15 to 20 people at the Ronald McDonald House.
Abby also is a member of the Mayor's Youth Council and Best Buddies.
Tampa Prep's Margaret Carraway joined Abby as one of five winners with connections to the City Times coverage area.
Margaret lists her greatest accomplishment as creating a special day at her school to promote and encourage acceptance. Students broke out of their usual cliques to play games with kids from different friendship groups, and speakers brought special messages.
"Seeing their determination to better the world and free us from prejudice inspires me every day," said Margaret, who also has spent a summer working with underprivileged kids in Miami's Overtown area.
Robinson High's Victoria de Lelys lists mentoring children as her greatest accomplishment. She teaches swim classes, leads religious education classes and works with students during summer science camps.
Victoria says she receives as much as she gives.
Kathryn Gertz proudly wears the label of nerd. As one of the leaders of Middleton High's Mu Alpha Theta math competition team, she cherishes the success of her team and the camaraderie crafted over the years.
"Basically, 'nerd' becomes a compliment," she said. "They share my love of math and card games and wearing ties, and we even sang Yellow Submarine on the way back from the last competition. And of course, there's all those ridiculous math jokes."
Hillsborough High's Jennifer West leads the high school swim team, ranks in the 95th percentile of her class and is active with Girl Scouts. Her biggest mark, however, comes from an awareness campaign she sparked to help reduce the needless euthanizing of cats and dogs.
"You can not only work with people, but you can also work with animals and help animals with your project too," she said.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio saluted the winners, saying that none of the Athena members was as accomplished as this year's recipients when they were in high school.
"I just hung around," Iorio laughed. "I didn't do any of this stuff."
Iorio also challenged the girls to meet the obligation of making the world a better place.
In a way, it's a responsibility they've already met. Just ask the people of El Caribe.
That's all I'm saying.