Among the colorful hallways, emblazoned with the mantra that “Girls Are ... Strong, Smart and Bold,” 18-year-old Arianna Lopez has been a fixture at Girls Incorporated of Carpinteria for more than a decade, taking advantage of nearly every program and finding a second home there.
Now, Lopez will be leaving the organization that has nurtured her for so long — with the help of a $20,000 scholarship to help her pay for college, which she expects to begin in the fall.
She is just a few months shy from walking across the graduation stage at Carpinteria High School, and she recently was selected as a 2015 scholarship winner in the Girls Inc. National Scholar Program.
Lopez was one of 31 high school-aged young women who were awarded the scholarship from a record number of applicants.
She also joins an elite club of 18 girls from Girls Inc. of Carpinteria who have been named National Scholars in years past.
Lopez applied last fall, and one day her mother called the family together, and informed them that she had been awarded the scholarship.
“I just started crying,” she recalled.
She’s interested in pursuing graphic design, photography and journalism during her studies.
She admits she spends more time at Girls Inc. than at home — her mother, Ericka Loza-Lopez, is programming director there — and began attending Girls Inc. in kindergarten.
She remembered the first time she walked through the club’s doors.
“It was so much fun being here,” she said. “The moment you walk in the door, you get to know different types of little girls and what they can teach you.”
Lopez remembers begging one of the teachers to join a drama class, for which she was technically too young, but was granted access and “flourished.”
She has been through her share of challenges, including suffering a head injury from a sledding accident in Mammoth that occurred when she was 5 years old.
When she returned to school after the injury, “kids called me ‘Scar Face’ and said some really mean things,” she recalled.
“I didn’t really know how to deal with it,” she said.
One thing that made that time easier was the support she received from Girls Inc.
Lopez had to wear a hat as the scar on her forehead healed, so the girls at the club organized a “hat party” at which they all wore different hats in support of Lopez.
“I knew right then and there I was accepted,” she said.
Lopez also has dyslexia, and admits she struggled academically until being able to come up with an individualized education plan that accommodates her learning style.
When the City of Carpinteria was working to ban smoking in public places, Lopez became a community force. She attended city council meetings, taking copious notes and even speaking to the council during public comment to encourage the ban, which took effect in 2011.
The smoking ban efforts earned her a community service award from Radio Disney, and she traveled to Los Angeles to receive a “Hero for Change” award.
Lopez admits she’s still got much to do before the end of her school year at Carp High, but is looking forward to the independence of college life.
“It’s still surreal,” she said.
She’s completed 2,600 community service hours, likely breaking a record at the high school. Among the beneficiaries: the California Avocado Festival and Girls Inc.
Lopez’s family is behind her as she begins to think about her college future.
“They’re unbelievably excited, but not surprised,” she said. “They’re like ‘you can do anything’.”