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Class of 2024 Juanita Haugen -

High School Community of Character Awards

Recipients from the Class of 2024 are:

The Amador Valley recipients are:

    Ishmeet, Dhillon, Ajay Reyes, Matteo Gable, Madeline Zhang and Jessi Oropeza. 

The Foothill High recipients are:

    Elias Benard, Jake Grijalva, Peter Bennett, Colin Harrison and Valentina Avalos. 

The Village High School recipient is David Peregrina. 

Ajay Reyes is a senior at Amador Valley High School, son of Luis and Gauri Reyes.

His commitment to the community stems from a life-changing experience during his freshman year in high school. In his Zoom health class, he learned the basics of CPR. He never imagined, however, that he would ever have to use them. “When I was on a run in Tawny Park, I heard a commotion.” Ajay said. “There were a bunch of adults and children calling for help.” When Ajay ran over, what he saw astounded him. “A man was on the ground, there was something very wrong. Instinctively, I got on one knee and performed chest compressions. Eventually, I was able to revive him.”

Since that day, Ajay has been giving talks to freshman health classes. “I believe it is important for people to believe in the importance of learning life-saving skills. You never know when someone’s life may depend on you”.

Since then, Ajay has made certain to get involved in his community from volunteering at the local chamber of commerce, offering his time to help tutor students through the organization Hively, and even helping teachers at his high school set up for the first day of school during the final days of summer.

Coming from a background of migrant farm workers, he is grateful for the great sacrifices of his family and is dedicated to continuing this legacy of determination and hard work through higher education and leaving a mark on the Pleasanton community.

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Ishmeet Dhillon is a senior at Amador Valley High School, daughter of Prabhdeep Kaur and Talbir Dhillon.


Ishmeet’s parents worked hard to achieve the “American Dream” and have been an inspiration throughout her life to always persevere. Her perseverance resulted in the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award for 250 hours of community service, appointment as Pleasanton Library Youth Commissioner, and being named the Pleasanton Teen Poet Laureate.

Some of her activities and community service include volunteering at the American Cancer Society, assistant teaching at the Fremont Gurdwara Sahib, helping at the Pleasanton Library, participating in Model UN, singing and playing the rabab, serving on the School Site Council, interning for Supervisor David Haubert, advocacy efforts through the Stanford REACH Lab, California Youth Board, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids National Youth Ambassadors, and more.

Ishmeet writes that responsibility is a vital component of one’s character. "It is the value that shapes our views, actions, and decisions. Being an older sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a friend, and a student, responsibility has been a huge component and factor in my actions. Identifying problems and being the solution is what I strive for in both fulfilling my responsibilities as well as being a compassionate human being." Stepping into the next chapter of her life, Ishmeet takes these values of perseverance and responsibility forward to pursue her passions and continue serving her community.

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Jessi Mejia Oropeza is a senior at Amador Valley High School, son of Rosa and Jesus Mejia. 

Jessi wrote that “Compassion is to look beyond your own pain, to see the pain in others

and provide them assistance. The emotional and mental support you offer someone will help

them succeed and open doors to them in life.”

Jessi is a member of the AVHS Track and Field team and engages in the school’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) club.    

He has participated in a Data Science exploration summer program learning ways that harm our ecosystem using data science basics, statistics, and data visualization. He has also volunteered at the Alameda County Fair like taking care of plants or helping guests with directions. He has also volunteered at a local hotel with housekeeping folding or cleaning towels or sheets and being helpful to guests staying. He is proud of his Hispanic heritage and his parents who are his greatest motivators who instilled the values of respect, kindness and honesty. He helps his hard-working parents with household needs, including translating conversations and emails from English to Spanish to them.

He would be the first to attend college in his family and sees it as an opportunity to make

his parents proud and pursue his passion in making a positive impact within his

community and make a difference in the world.

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Madeline Zhang is a senior at Amador Valley High School, daughter of Yan Ma and Jian Zhang.  

Madeline describes her family as full of love, respect, and support.

Compassion has been an essential factor in forming new relationships. 

During her freshman year, she joined Friends of Children with Special Needs (FCSN), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting those with special needs, and established the FCSN-Buddy Club at AVHS to bridge the gap between neurodiverse and neurotypical students. She served as co-president of the club for all four years and hosted bi-weekly events, such as guest speakers, monthly board game and art sessions with the special needs classes, and club booths.

As a leader in the Global Leadership Initiatives for Youth (GLIFY) with over 400 student members, she led her club in projects such as “Adopt a Senior” for CityServe, assembling COVID-19 test kits, Public Speaking and Leadership Program and many others.  Additionally, since 2021, she has been volunteering at Parkview, helping with activities for assisted living and memory care seniors. She also tutors a neurodiverse student weekly, helping him to improve his communication and reading comprehension skills.

She has a goal of attending nursing school hoping to become a highly competent and compassionate nurse, ready to make a positive impact on the lives of patients and communities.

Matteo Gable is a senior at Amador Valley High School, son of Michelle Gable.

When he was three years old, his dad passed away suddenly from an undetected heart condition.  He was in great physical shape, and it was a shock to everyone.  In 2012 his family started a non-profit organization called Gable Heart Beats in honor of his dad.  Matteo, at age ten, became a main speaker at their charity events which works to save lives through funding heart screenings for early detection of heart issues and donating AEDs to schools. “Having Gable Heart Beats has been a great way for me to cope with the loss of my dad by focusing on turning a tragedy into an opportunity to help people.”

Through the Gable Heart Beats Foundation, he speaks at events, helps at heart screenings and delivers donated AEDs, 13 of which have been placed around Pleasanton.  The foundation has raised over $275,000.

In addition to the foundation, he has been involved in AVHS journalism, anchor for the AVHS television and volunteered at events in Pleasanton such as the “Make a Difference Festival”.

He would like to pursue becoming a screenwriter by majoring in Film and Television.

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Valentina Avalos is a senior at Foothill High School, her parents are Alma and Arnoldo Avalos.

Valentina’s community calls her after her namesake Valentina Avitia, a guerrillera (female

soldier) in the Mexican Revolution who fought for a better life. Valentina has been inspired to

show the complexities of the Mexican-American experience and acknowledge what it means to

be Mexican and set out to also make a bigger impact in her local Community.

She became the student trustee to the Pleasanton Unified School District Board, becoming the first Latina to ever hold the position.

Valentina has been a volunteer and intern with US Congressman Eric Swalwell, a representative of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, participated in other Latino organizations & projects, such as: US Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Leadership Program, Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project and Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

She has been a volunteer at Corazon Del Angel Orphanage and Cultura Y Bienestar, as well as a volunteer tutor for the Pleasanton PTA. She is a member of the Girl Scouts, Catholic Community of Pleasanton, and Peer Advocates. She has participated in Foothill Water Polo and Swim teams and was named captain of both Junior Varsity teams.

Valentina will study politics and minor in Spanish at the University of California Berkley while continuing her passion of participating in meaningful community work. She plans to attend a prestigious law school and continue to be involved in her community. 


Colin Harrison is a senior at Foothill High School, his parents are Damon and Kimberly Harrison.

While in the fifth grade, Colin got a severe case of strep throat, eventually developing into Irritable Bowel Syndrome (I.B.S.).  Managing his IBS and other sicknesses has caused him to adopt a strict diet and manage his symptoms to this day.  These sicknesses brought a keen interest in science, specifically in all things related to bacteria and viruses, leading him to take every science course he could and excelling in them. 

He has interviewed and shadowed physicians and became a senior officer in the Health Occupational Students of America chapter.

Self-discipline has been a major part of his life due to his health troubles, not being able to eat gluten, high fructose corn syrup and a multitude of other foods.  This has been especially hard when going out to eat with friends.

Colin states that, “. The self-discipline I learned through having to control my diet has benefited me in multiple other parts of my life. It has allowed me to push through and work harder rather than give up when something challenges me. It has made me stronger and more determined, which has led to me striving to do more to become the best me I can be.”

He has had a keen interest in community service, serving as class president of the Young Men’s Service League, where they perform service for many nonprofits.  In addition he has volunteered with the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department, was a member of the Blue Crew at FHS, and a member of the National Honors Society, while playing on the FHS baseball teams.

His college plans are to pursue his interest in science and bacteria by majoring in microbiology.


Elias Badillo-Benard is a senior at Foothill High School, his parents are Angelina Badillo

and Mauricio Benard.  When his family moved to Pleasanton, he experienced a new kind of insecurity.  His prior community spoke Spanish and shared his culture and traditions. Suddenly, he felt stripped of his sense of belonging and became aware of his different skin. He felt a growing pressure to prove that he fit in, while still trying to hold onto his old identity. 

He joined the cross country team, but was quickly humbled, but through perseverance and hard work became successful, leading him to pursue larger risks, eventually qualifying for the school’s We the People team.  He sought local organizations to make a difference and found Christmas con Carino, which aided the most vulnerable and underserved, such as farmworkers.  He established drives to fill stockings of their children. For the last 4 years, he delivered hundreds of stockings to various agricultural areas. 

He has been involved in many other service projects, such as: Smiles for Seniors, San Jose Women’s Shelter, Habitat for Humanity, Latinos Unidos, Kids Against Hunger, and National Honors Society helping with various food and clothing drives.  Elias hopes to major in Political Science and Spanish, then follow a dream of studying civil and criminal law.  Because of his cultural experiences and biliteracy, he hopes to one day serve as a voice for the underserved populations.


Jake Grijalva is a senior at Foothill High School.  His parents are John and Julie Grijalva. 


Jake’s family has taught him the importance of giving back to his community. He started volunteering in seventh grade with Boys Team Charity and often volunteers with his parents and his two sisters, Ella and Chloe. Jake has loved the time that he’s spent helping the incredible philanthropies in our community such as Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels, Challenger Baseball, Hively, George Mark Children’s House and Kids Against Hunger.  

At Foothill, Jake has played baseball for the past four years and has received scholar athlete awards and the North Coast Section, California Interscholastic Federation President’s List Award.  He has also played club baseball with McNeal Sports since fifth grade.  After a season-ending baseball injury in tenth grade, Jake wrote, “I learned the importance of community and family support in the face of personal adversity. I believe that I have become a stronger person as a result of my injury, one who acknowledges the importance of encouragement and caring from family, friends, coaches, and teachers, and one who is more insightful about the struggles of others.” 

If Jake is not on the baseball field, you can often find him downtown at the Dairy serving you your favorite ice cream.  In the fall, Jake will either be studying at the University of Washington or the University of Colorado, Boulder.


Peter Bennett is a senior at Foothill High School, his parents are Bill Bennett and Jyllian Kemsley.

Peter comes from a scientific family, learning to love the subject from his mom, a Ph.D. chemist and science writer. He was introduced to Science Bowl in middle school, a fast-paced game-show type of competition, and in 2021 represented the US at the International Earth Science Olympiad, winning three gold medals.
He learned responsibility by coaching science bowl teams, eventually becoming the head coach of the PMS Science Bowl program, learning that responsibility means being dependable, thoughtful, and accountable. He also learned that respect includes getting feedback from team members and other coaches as well as treating students as equals.
He is a co-founder of Prometheus Science, a nonprofit that organizes philanthropy-driven science competitions, and volunteers extensively writing and organizing similar competitions for PMS, Foothill and even events with competitors throughout the United States and world.
He is also a member of the Foothill We the People team.


David Peregrina is a senior at Village High, his parents are Martha Ruiz and Florentino Peregrina.

David is part of the student leadership at Village.  His parents are two very hard-working people.  As a gardener and house cleaner, they worked super hard to take care of their children.  David said, “My Parents have sacrificed so much to get me where I am. They are the reason I want to succeed in life.”

David is a leader and the school’s representative and has accumulated over 80 hours of community service and works hard with the student leadership at his school.  He is very focused on soccer, played on the Amador Valley varsity soccer team, and traveled across the country and even international soccer, receiving the Best Goalkeeper award at the “Futsal World Cup” in Spain.

Writing about Respect, David wrote, “My mom would show me the (show respect to others) side and my dad would (show me how to earn it).”

David would love to major in marketing, feeling he has the skills necessary to succeed and have a successful career.  He understands how important education is because soccer won’t last forever.

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