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Ripon teens share thoughts on making a difference
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Rotarian Frances Taylor presents top speech contest honors to Ripon High School sophomore Hailey Perez one of four students competing for college scholarship recognition with the theme, Reach Within to Embrace Humanity. Speakers from the left are Katie Donoho, Ripon Christian junior; Cody Day and Anna Fassler, both of Ripon High. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON — Wanting someday to make a difference in the world by becoming a sign language interpreter, Ripon High School sophomore Hailey Perez told Rotarians it only takes one person to initiate change.

She was one of four competitors in Wednesday’s Ripon Rotary speech contest. The theme was, “Reach Within to Embrace Humanity.”

Perez took home a check for $125 and will now go on to the Rotary Area Contest to be held in Tracy next month.  Cody Day from Ripon High received $100 for second place and Katie Donoho of Ripon Christian received $75 for third place.  Honorable mention and $25 went to Anna Fassler of Ripon High.  The winner of the Area Contest will compete by video at the District level in April.  Each Rotary Area contains four service clubs.

“There are millions of people all over the world who don’t have the everyday necessities needed to survive,” Perez said.  “How many people will it take to change the world?  Some say millions, but I believe it only takes one.”

She told Rotarians at the Barnwood Restaurant noon meeting that it only takes “one ordinary person like you and me” to start a chain reaction. 

Perez said before she had watched a video on Rotary, she didn’t understand what the international club’s motto,  Service Above Self, really meant. 

“Then I realized it is more than just to embrace humanity – but to be willing to try to change it.”

Having moved recently from Florida to Ripon and now in her first year at Ripon High, she said she was sitting in a class and listening to announcements one morning and heard people talking about sports and other things that were going on that week,  never hearing anything about her school making a difference.

“There are 800 students in Ripon High.  I just sit back and think about what would happen if they all thought about just one other person for just one moment like Rotary does.  They give up their time and care for people all over the world,” she said.  “They care for them right here, too, in Ripon.”

Perez told of a family member – an aunt – who has devoted her entire life to helping foster children, not just one or two, but four. 

Three of the children – all brothers – came from a home where domestic violence is as normal to them as drinking water. 

“As a single parent with five part-time jobs, she’s not only working,  but also going to school,  being a life coach for children exiting the foster care system.  She has taken them under her wing even though she doesn’t have to, and putting them in the right direction,” she explained.

The teen speaker said when her aunt was young, she was in a surrounding where it was normal to fight and where it was normal not to come home.  It was also normal to be scared to come out of her room. 

“She takes in these children because they are our future.  We, too, are the future in America,” she stressed.  “Like a lot of people, my aunt does this, because she loves it, not for the check.”

Further using her aunt as an example, she said that working as a foster mother it was her intent to show the children that “it’s OK to love your family and it’s OK to be happy.”

In April of 2005 her aunt was given custody of her cousin – becoming the fifth child in the family – also through the foster care system.

“He is now 7 and living a life I don’t think would have been possible if he had stayed with his biological parents.  The children may not see it, but without her they wouldn’t be where they are today,” she said.

She said her aunt is living proof that it starts with only one person wanting to make a change in the world,  adding that Rotary is also living proof that it starts with only one individual. 

“It’s about one person who wants to make a change, one person who thinks about more than just themselves.  Not everyone can take in foster children, but there is something that everyone can do.  What you do isn’t my business, but what I do is,” she said.

Perez said she plans to start taking classes to become a sign language interpreter.

“We all have our own talents and interests, and if we utilize those to help people work together we can make the world a better place by embracing humanity,” she said.