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2008 Goleta Teen of the Year Is Driven to Succeed

San Marcos High senior Sandra Iraheta shares a bond with her mom and a passion for community service.

Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime is involved in a multitude of community-building activities, but none builds a more lasting legacy than Goleta Teen of the Year. This year’s honoree, Sandra Iraheta, is about to prove the point.

At the UCSB Faculty Club on Thursday night, family, friends and Rotarians gathered to salute the 2008 finalists in the 33-year-old community service award program: Iraheta and Danielle “Dani” Gemberling of San Marcos High; Liza Fletcher of Laguna Blanca School; and Dos Pueblos High’s Ciera Millender, Caitlin Racich, Wolf Thielmann, Blaz Uribe and Kristi Ware, who was named the 2008 Goleta Teen of the Year runner-up. Fletcher is the lone junior in a class of seniors.

A record 78 nominees made up this year’s group, with 32 students completing the rigorous program that requires them to contribute to community, school, youth groups, faith organizations, service clubs and nonprofit groups, all while maintaining a minimum 2.75 grade-point average and selling a lot of raffle tickets. The teens also undergo interview and presentation training that will help the eventual winner carry out his or her public duties as Goleta Teen of the Year.

This coming year that teen will be Iraheta, a 17-year-old with a 4.0 GPA who hopes to attend Stanford or UC Berkeley and become an OB/GYN. She spent six months in a study abroad program in Italy, where she picked up a fluency in Italian, and she volunteers in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s labor and delivery department, and at Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp at UCSB, Orca School and YMCA’s Away Camp. For fun she works on cars, and is taking two auto mechanics classes at SBCC.

Emcee Larry Crandell basks in adulation with 2007 Goleta Teen of the Year Valerie Mehlschau.
Emcee Larry Crandell basks in adulation with 2007 Goleta Teen of the Year Valerie Mehlschau. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

So what drives her?

“I was raised by a single mother and I am determined to prove to her how grateful I am toward her,” she said. “I am living proof that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, no matter what your background was like.

“I was born with almost nothing, but now I am going to be somebody. Nothing can take this away from me.”

Iraheta’s mom, Mireya Rojas, beamed with pride at her daughter’s accomplishment but admitted she couldn’t believe it was her name that emcee Larry Crandell announced. It didn’t sink in until the girl the family calls “Sandrita” blurted out, “I love you, Mom!”

Liza Fletcher with her dad, Seymour.
Liza Fletcher with her dad, Seymour. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

“She’s very persistent,” Rojas said. “She’s known what she wants since she was a little girl. She loves everything and can make friends anywhere. Little kids love her.

“I tell her, ‘You have an angel.’”

She also has a substantial scholarship, thanks to a record $11,300 in scholarships the program will distribute this year.

In addition to her mom, Iraheta was accompanied at the ceremony by her younger sister, Stephanie, a student at Santa Barbara High; her boyfriend, Danny Nguyen, a San Marcos senior; Debbie Brooke, her “big sister” from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Barbara County, and her husband, Matthew; and by Tara Pfaff, her academic counselor at San Marcos and the woman who nominated her to be Goleta Teen of the Year.

Members of the Danielle Gemberling Fan Club get a special photo opportunity.
Members of the Danielle Gemberling Fan Club get a special photo opportunity. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

The Class of 2008 participated in a year’s worth of activities, including the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce’s California Lemon Festival; CPR training at the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County; Halloween on Calle Real; Goleta Valley Beautiful plantings; an interviewing skills seminar; Goleta Valley Historical Society at Stow House; Goleta 10K and 5K Fun Run; Tree Lighting at the Goleta Valley Community Center; State Street Christmas Parade; lunch with Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime; Goleta Valley chamber Business After Hours mixer; judging holiday decorations; and Rotary’s Fourth of July Fireworks Festival.

The teens also made $150 donations to the nonprofit organizations of their choice. Fletcher selected the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance, Gemberling the Leukaemia Foundation, Iraheta the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Millender and Racich the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Thielmann the Dos Pueblos Little League’s Challenger Division, Uribe the Goleta Boys & Girls Club, and Ware selected Hands 4 Others.

Ciera Millender with her pastor, Drew Kawiecki.
Ciera Millender with her pastor, Drew Kawiecki. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

Joining Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime as sponsors were the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter, the Baker Foundation, the city of Goleta, Goleta Jewelers, Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, Luxury Limousines, Montecito Bank & Trust, Red Baron Aviation and Windhaven Glider Rides. Channel Islands Surfboards and Los Padres Bank also participated as sponsors.

This year’s judges were Goleta City Councilman Michael Bennett; program co-chairwoman Connie Burns; Randy Rosness, executive director of the Goleta Valley Community Center; and Barbara Tzur, president of the Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime. Burns and Tzur were joined on the program committee by Rotarians Cheryl Forssell, Michael Gartzke, David Gore, Cami Helmuth, Steve Jones, Barbara Klein, Jana Krilling, Karin Napel and David Vo.

Caitlin Racich with her dad, Randy.
Caitlin Racich with her dad, Randy. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

A number of Goleta dignitaries attended the ceremony, among them Mayor Roger Aceves, Council members Margaret Connell and Eric Onnen, and former Councilwoman Jean Blois.

Also honored was last year’s Goleta Teen of the Year, Valerie Mehlschau, a 2008 San Marcos graduate fresh from finals and her first semester at UCLA. The budding screenwriter and former Noozhawk intern described her opportunity to serve as a rewarding whirlwind of activity, but she also imparted some words of advice as the Class of 2008 waits to receive college admissions letters.

“Pick a school that you love. Pick a school that you connect with,” she said. “And when you get there, get involved. Be bold.

Wolf Thielmann with his grandmother, Marnie Thielmann.
Wolf Thielmann with his grandmother, Marnie Thielmann. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

“If your heart is in it, you’ll never feel lost. If you ever doubt it, remember that the people in this room invested in you. They believe that you can do anything.”

Liza Fletcher
School: Laguna Blanca, junior
Parents: Jane and Seymour Fletcher
Community Service: Teaching tennis at the Goleta Boys & Girls Club, working with children with autism
Interests and Hobbies: Tennis, working on her family’s ranch
School and Other Activities: Varsity tennis team, Literary Society, Tea & Biscuit Club, Interact Club, public speaking class

Blaz Uribe and mom Nora Arzate.
Blaz Uribe and mom Nora Arzate. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

Danielle “Dani” Gemberling
School: San Marcos, senior
Parents: Donna and Gary Gemberling
Community Service: Westmont College athletics, Santa Barbara Youth Track Club, San Marcos Parent Child Workshop, California Lemon Festival
Interests and Hobbies: Running, painting, drawing, cooking, yoga, reading
School and Other Activities: Varsity cross country, track and volleyball; Key Club; Earth Club; church youth group

Sandra Iraheta
School: San Marcos, senior
Parent: Mireya Rojas
Community Service: Orca School, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, YMCA’s Away Camp, Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp at UCSB
Interests and Hobbies: Medicine, auto mechanics, travel
School and Other Activities: San Marcos Health Academy, Red Cross Club

Kristi Ware with her dad, Ed, and her mom, Charlotte, at left.
Kristi Ware with her dad, Ed, and her mom, Charlotte, at left. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

Ciera Millender
School: Dos Pueblos, senior
Parent: Ellie Costantino
Community Service: Day care, assisting at various camps, Calvary Chapel events
Interests and Hobbies: Dancing, swimming, travel, singing, surfing, church youth leadership
School and Other Activities: Varsity cheerleader and swim team, student body athletics commissioner

Caitlin Racich
School: Dos Pueblos, senior
Parents: Linda and Randy Racich
Community Service: Santa Barbara Junior Lifeguards, Santa Barbara Volleyball Club, Dos Pueblos Leadership
Interests and Hobbies: Indoor and outdoor volleyball, surfing, snorkeling, singing and dancing, Calvary Chapel youth group, soccer, softball, lifeguarding
School and Other Activities: Varsity volleyball team captain, Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Athlete of the Week, Dos Pueblos news anchor, activities commissioner, various class officer positions, ASB secretary and treasurer, class historian, RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards)

The Dos Pueblos High contingent.
The Dos Pueblos High contingent. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

Wolf Thielmann
School: Dos Pueblos, senior
Parents: Jean and Alan Thielmann
Community Service: City of Goleta, Beautify Dos Pueblos, Dos Pueblos Jazz Festivals, liaison to Marjorie Luke Theatre
Interests and Hobbies: Saxophone, ballroom dancing, motorcycle riding, science, aeronautics, golf, maintaining historical landmarks, remote-control gliders
School and Other Activities: Varsity golf team, third-place finish in state Science Fair, Jazz Band, Humanitarian Club, lead student project coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Program

With a high-five, 2007 honoree Valerie Mehlschau hands off the Goleta Teen of the Year title to Sandra Iraheta.
With a high-five, 2007 honoree Valerie Mehlschau hands off the Goleta Teen of the Year title to Sandra Iraheta. (David Vo / Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara photo)

Blaz Uribe
School: Dos Pueblos, senior
Parent: Nora Arzate
Community Service: Beautify Dos Pueblos, California Lemon Festival, Friday Night Live Club
Interests and Hobbies: Travel, mentoring
School and Other Activities: ASB president, Leadership Club, various class officer positions, twice selected for the Orfalea Foundation’s Montana Yellowstone Expedition

Kristi Ware
School: Dos Pueblos, senior
Parents: Charlotte and Ed Ware
Community Service: Stage Left Theatre camp counselor, mission trips, Dos Pueblos High Leadership, Calvary Chapel
Interests and Hobbies: Ballet, performing arts, singing, travel
School and Other Activities: ASB treasurer, theater arts, Dos Pueblos Robotics Team, Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk.

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