Casa Grande High School student Jhordy Gongora was one of 10 Sonoma County High School seniors honored Wednesday, May 1 at the Press Democrat’s 25th annual Community Youth Service Awards. Students were chosen for their leadership and community contributions.

Gongora, a member of the Petaluma Youth Commission, has been dancing with Chan Kahal, a Yucatecan folkloric dance troupe since he was 8 years old. To him the dance group is how he preserves and honors his Mayan heritage. “Chan Kahal has affected me to become culturally conscious of my surroundings,” he said. “I have become passionate in experiencing new cultures, and through the first annual diversity festival, I will experience a plethora of different ethnicities.”

Leslie Eme, youth ambassadors program director for San Francisco-based Amigos de las Americas, praised Gongora, calling him a leader who empowers his peers to find their leadership potential. “Whatever career path Jhordy chooses,” Eme said, “I am confident that cultural sensitivity, leadership and passion for social justice will allow him to achieve his goal of ‘uplifting communities’.”

“This was a great group of kids this year and the work they are doing is extraordinary,” Press Democrat publisher Bruce Kyse said. “These kids are doing three and four different projects. It’s amazing how many things they are doing in the community and globally.
“Year after year, I’m blown away,” he said.
Each category is judged independently by separate panels of judges. Winners receive $1,000. Winners were selected by a panel of 30 judges from 136 nominees representing 19 high schools.