Rotary Students Garner 2020 Spirit Of The West Award!

Los Alamos Rotary Club students garner the 2020 Spirit of the West Award for their service to the community. Here students are volunteering their time for the ‘Meals Of Hope’ Rotary project in September during which they packaged more than 40,000 servings of rice and beans that was distributed to those in need by LA Cares in Los Alamos and The Food Depot in Santa Fe. Courtesy photo

Richard Ronquillo of Rich Welding, LLC of Mesilla, handcrafted the 2020 Spirit Of The West Award to mark a new year of the 12-year program, as good deeds soar through the community, some nominations were heralded on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Courtesy photo

Champions of Youth Ambitions News:

Champions of Youth Ambitions (C’YA) celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday by celebrating a small portion of the annual Community Asset Awards.

The local non-profit celebrated its first Zoom notification called the “Pride in a Pandemic”, to mark several nominations.

Fifty nominations have been put forward and members of C’YA are still attempting to reach all of those nominated for 2020. It wasn’t feasible to try to hold giant Zoom meetings, so in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., three stories were highlighted by the local non-profit, now in its 12th year of hosting the event.

C’YA  Board members Claire Swinhoe, Debra Minyard and Deb Snow held two Zoom meetings to notify and highlight some of the great stories of community service. Normally a semi formal event held to recognize the award winning community members and volunteers in front of a large crowd, this year due to the pandemic, winners were virtually recognized.

Rotary Interact students Taylor Kanzleiter, Yunseo Kim, Philippe Fung, Elise Ovaska, Tommy Oldham and Malia Hanawalt along with their adult leaders were highlighted for their volunteer work in the community and northern New Mexico. The adult leaders comprise a combination of Rotary members and Los Alamos High School staff and include Keith Lewis, Margo Batha, Alison Pannell and Sandy Tobin.

Rotary Vice President Linda Hull nominated the students. She detailed how they started in September volunteering with the Rotary Club’s highly successful Meals of Hope project, which provided more than 40,000 meals to LA Cares in Los Alamos and The Food Depot in Santa Fe. Next, they held a donation drive in November to collect winter essentials for people struggling throughout the area. The collected items were donated to Compassion for Action, a homeless center in Española. The student volunteers also shoveled snow, raked leaves, made cards for senior and held a Peace and Pizza event.

Reverend Keith Lewis is a Rotary Club member, and he brought the students together under the guise that they would discover more ways to reach out to senior citizens in the community. They had no idea that they and their mentors were gathered to be told they achieved C’YA’s highest award of 2020, the Spirit of the West, named for former County Councilor Jim West.

“This bunch is an outstanding group of young people,” Rev. Lewis said. 

LAHS sophomore Yunseo Kim told the committee, “Thank you so much, it is a huge honor”.

Sophomore Elise Ovaska said, “It’s been such a blast doing this with Rotary”.

The youth leaders said they were so thankful to the community for supporting their projects. The award by Richard Ronquillo of Rich Welding, LLC, was handcrafted especially for 2020 to recognize service above and beyond in a year like no other.

“When told of the Spirit of the West honor, I was overjoyed,” Hull said. “The Interact students turned a challenging year into a success. Their dedication to community service is inspiring … I’m so proud of them.”

Los Alamos MainStreet is a partner of Pride in a Pandemic. Visit the Champions of Youth Ambitions website (, and Facebook page to learn more about this year’s award throughout the next several weeks.