BERWYN – Hazelle Orellana, 14, likened the feeling of waiting for her name to be called in the North Berwyn Park District’s Best of Berwyn Junior Citizen Recognition Program to riding a rollercoaster. As the names of the 28 eighth-grade nominees were called one by one, Hazelle said she was getting more and more nervous and had a lot of “butterflies in her stomach,” which is the same feeling she has when at amusement parks.
But the last name called was Hazelle’s, as she was awarded the winner of the program at a banquet May 3 at Skylite West Banquets in Berwyn.
“I was so nervous. I’m still kind of in shock,” the Heritage Middle School eighth-grader said. “But it feels great. It’s a self-esteem booster, and it shows how far you can get. I’m really proud of myself. There were so many great candidates, and I was very surprised when they called my name last.”
The recognition program begins in April, when eighth-graders are nominated by their school, local officials or nonprofit organizations. This year, 28 students were nominated, and all of them were interviewed by a committee of local officials and community leaders, before the field was narrowed down to the top 10. The 10 finalists went through an additional interview, which North Berwyn Park District Executive Director Joe Vallez said can be intimidating for some of the students.
“I think they get nervous, but at this level, the kids are confident about what they’ve done and what they can do,” he said. “The candidates are evaluated on verbal skills, the ability to talk about national and global issues. They’re high-level questions, and the kids do very well. They’re able to have conversations about things that are affecting the world.”
After the final round of interviews was complete, the 10 finalists were ranked from first to 10th, and the winner was announced at the banquet. Vallez said while grades are a part of the criteria, they’re not the most important factor. He said the committee looks for students who do well in school, but who also show strong leadership qualities and are involved with their schools and communities.
“They’re young adults who are doing outstanding things, and after talking to them, you realize they are where they are because all of their hard work,” he said. “We always hear about the bad things youth are doing, so it’s great for the community to see the best in their future leadership. It’s also good for educators to see the results of their hard work.”
All of the nominees were individually recognized at the banquet before the top 10 nominees were counted down. The top three finalists received a $1,000 allocation that will go toward their high school education expenses. All of the money is donated by the Berwyn Development Corporation’s philanthropic committee.
Vallez said the money can be used for school uniforms, fees or even supplies like a new computer.
“It really comes in handy and is much appreciated,” he said. “Past winners have said this is the best thing that’s happened to them. It’s good preparation for them to become young adults.”
Vallez explained that Hazelle had a “very interesting take on the world” and made a lot of good points in her interview, and he described her as “visionary.”
Heritage Middle School Principal Allison Boutet said Hazelle has a very positive attitude about learning and a “significant amount” of school spirit.
“I’m so proud of her. She’s very involved with extracurricular activities and community service,” Boutet said. “Hazelle has a passion for everything she does, and that makes her stand out. She is very proud and thankful for all of the support. She has a lot of potential and will use her energy to do great things.”
Best of Berwyn Junior Citizen Recognition Program
Lily Sol Cuevas