The 80th Assembly District Women and Girls of the Year Award Ceremony was hosted by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, in which she recognized 45 local women and girls who best represent the district. Three girls from Bonita Vista High School were recognized, seniors Thalia Bendorf and Caitlin Lange and sophomore Angela Arce. Due to unavailability, Thalia Bendorf was unable to comment on her experience of being honored with the award.
The honorees represent many people within San Diego and become selected after they are nominated by members of the community and honored on March 27 at Chula Vista High School. Gonzalez and her team may also give recommendations based on outstanding leaders they have seen and engaged with throughout the year.
“These amazing women and girls have done so much for our community and we should be inspired by their example. I am proud to honor such an accomplished and distinguished group of women and girls,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.
The women are chosen if they show exemplary qualities under one of the many categories: activism, arts & culture, business, civic engagement, community service, education, health, environment, labor and youth empowerment. The Girls of the Year honorees are high school students who typically include student body presidents, valedictorians, peer mentors, national champion team captains, young philanthropists, junior legislators and more.
The Girl of the Year award also considers candidates with an aptitude for the arts. BVH senior Caitlin Lange is a case in point, who was nominated for being an active member of Bonitafest and BVH’s Vocal Music Department.
“It’s really just about recognizing women in the community and helping to empower them to achieve more,” C. Lange said, “It’s really great that we’re starting to recognize that women have a voice: not just a voice, but a strong voice. We make up half the population and don’t need to be dominated by men.”
Professor of journalism at Southwestern College and General Chairman of Bonitafest 2017 Max Branscomb, Ed.D, met C. Lange when she was named ‘Miss Sweetwater Valley’ in May 2015. Branscomb asked Lange to serve on the Bonitafest planning committee and later nominated her for Girl of the Year in February 2017.
“Caitlin is a remarkable young woman. Besides being very musically talented and intellectual, she has a real gift for leadership. It is no coincidence that Music Machine is having one of its greatest years in a decade. Caitlin had high expectations for her team and models a great work ethic,” Branscomb said.
Lange found out she received the award two weeks before attending the actual ceremony on March 24. When Maigue contacted her, she informed C. Lange why she was being awarded and what Lange needed to do in terms of logistics for the Women and Girls of the Year ceremony.
“Caitlin’s nominator shared that her remarkable 4.6 GPA put her in the running to be this year’s valedictorian. She’s a brilliant young Renaissance woman who excels in the arts and is also gifted in science. Caitlin has played an essential role in some of our community’s most beloved events and traditions, from South Bay Pride to the Starlight Parade,” Maigue said..
According to C. Lange, her mother Andrée Lange, is her “number one supporter.” C. Lange’s mom, dad and older brother were at the award ceremony to watch her receive her award.
“Caitlin’s dad and I were very excited and proud of her. She has worked so hard and given much of her time to the community over the last few years, and it was nice to see her awarded and acknowledged for her efforts,” A. Lange said.
Amongst the 19 women and 26 girls who were recognized for the Women and Girls of the Year Award, sophomore Angela Arce was amongst those honorees. Arce was chosen due to her leadership as an intern in the Junior Legislator Program.
“I just felt honored and happy to be standing [by] people that I knew from school. I don’t think there’s a competitive environment when it comes to Girls of the Year, I wasn’t intimidated, I was inspired by all their achievements, accomplishments, all they have done to help the constituents and the people among those communities,” A. Arce said.
Arce found out that she received the award during spring break on March 21. Before meeting A. Arce, district assembly director Francine Maigue, listened to her performances from Music Machine and from there Maigue recruited her as an intern for the JLP.
“The person who nominated me was definitely a driving force that helped me become the leader that I am today. She pushed me to my limits and also provided me with amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” A. Arce said. “I feel like [the award], is another way to empower women and to talk about the important issues and topics of society.”
In June 2016, while she was a JL, Francine Maigue nominated her for the award. A. Arce is the youngest JL up to date and she conducted extensive research to propose a legislative idea to strengthen programs that foster youth financial literacy. One program that A. Arce helped further was school supply drives.
“Communication skills, respect and hard work are important for her to become a proactive leader, so I tried to instill values that would help her develop these skills and traits. I wanted her to not be afraid of failure or making mistakes because there’s always room for improvement. I think my support was the most important thing I could offer to her as a mother,” A. Arce’s mother, Sally Arce said.
At the Women and Girls of the Year Ceremony, A. Arce sang the national anthem and performed the poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou at the Women & Girls of the Year Awards Ceremony.
“Nominations are made in a wide variety of categories. We’re always so proud and inspired by the many female heroes of our community, each of them giving so much of themselves to help others in different ways and sectors,” Maigue said.