From textbooks to housing, food to transportation, attaining a higher education is a costly endeavor. To provide a bit of help along the way, the Oro Valley Optimist Club recently awarded scholarships to five exemplary graduating high school seniors.

Students attending Ironwood Ridge, Canyon del Oro and Immaculate Heat high schools—as well as Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and BASIS Oro Valley—were each awarded $400 checks Tuesday, May 8 during a Student of the Year luncheon at the Oro Valley Country Club. 

“This is just a huge opportunity for me to be recognized by the Optimist Club, and by the community,” said Aaron Valenzuela. “It’s really nice for me, going away… to know that the community is on my side. Whenever I come back to visit, I’ve got family everywhere that I’ll be able to feel at home with.”

Valenzuela, who attends Ironwood Ridge High School, was introduced by principal Natalie Burnett as a young man “who walks the walk,” as a leader both academically and on the football field and as a person who is always kind and respectful to all.

A similar description of strong character and integrity introduced each teen, each touching on their individual talents and strengths.

“Jacob is a natural shepherd,” said Pusch Ridge Guidance Counselor Lori Abrams, speaking of Jacob Peyton. “Jacob is a young man who, at his age, clearly exemplifies a genuine walk with the lord, and he pursues Him daily, and lives Him out in a very humble and gracious way. I can’t think of a better thing to say about a person, honestly. And I can’t think of anyone at our school who exemplifies this.”

CDO’s Travis Dobbin was recognized in-part for his accomplishments as a Dorado, including time on the Academic Decathlon team, playing soccer, volleyball and swimming, participating in the Yale Young Globe Scholars program, achieving AP Scholar of Distinction and his time on the Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council.

Even though Dobbin was unable to attend the award ceremony, he did send a short message along with his grandparents, Bob and Becky Easton.

“Ultimately, my time spent at Canyon del Oro has been wonderful, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Bob read. “Thank you CDO for preparing me so well for my future, making me the man I am today. I cannot even begin to describe all of the rich memories and relationships that I have made over these four years.”

Both on and off the soccer field, BASIS senior Kayla Wowk was recognized for her drive, empathy and potential as an “incredible young woman.”

Wowk was introduced by BASIS Head of School Elizabeth Thies and teacher/soccer coach Helen Baker.

“As my defensive player her timing is impeccable, her brute strength is formidable and her dependability is unmatched. This young woman is remarkable in every way,” Baker said.

Also known for her athletic presence, Immaculate Heart’s Sarah Martin was introduced by Sister Alice Martinez, the school’s principal.

Martinez called the young woman an optimist, who’s gentle, giving and happy.

“When I got the letter, it was a no-brainer, you know your kids,” Martinez said. “We are a very small school, we only have 56 students, I know them in and out, and there was no better choice for this particular award than Sarah Martin.”

Each of the students honored by the local Optimist Club have already established their college plans: Wowk will attend the University of Arizona to study business; Dobbin will travel to Notre Dame to study aerospace engineering; Martin will first attend Pima Community College before the UA to become a teacher; Valenzuela will travel north to George Fox University in Oregon to study mechanical engineering and Peyton will head to Colorado Christian University to pursue a degree in business.

The Oro Valley Optimist Club is a member of Optimist International, a worldwide volunteer organization which works to improve the lives of youth and their communities.

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