Gonzales student, teachers become members of Bezos Scholars Program


GONZALES — Gonzales High School student Cindy Aguilar-Castaneda and educators Candice McFarland Camacho and Virginia Brown have been named part of the 2018 cohort of scholars for the Bezos Scholars Program.

The Bezos Scholars Program inspires and challenges young people to act on their passions and collaborate to address community needs.

Aguilar-Castaneda is passionate about deterring substance abuse.

“As a Youth Commissioner, I helped my community raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol to curb underage drinking,” she said.

Aguilar-Castaneda is an Interact Community Service Club member, an appointed Youth Commissioner for the Gonzales City Hall, and a Student Board Member for the Gonzales Unified School District. She plays the saxophone and clarinet with her school’s jazz ensemble and spends much of her free time helping other youth find and develop the needed skills to advocate for themselves.

She is passionate about supporting immigrants in her rural community and is interested in deterring adolescents from engaging with substances.

The 2018 applicant pool was the most competitive in program history, drawing the largest number of candidates, with applicants from nearly every U.S. state. Scholars are selected based on demonstrated leadership abilities, willingness to embrace challenges and the desire to create lasting change in their communities.

Aguilar-Castaneda will be supported by her educator scholars Candice McFarland Camacho and Virginia Brown, educators at Gonzales High School.

Camacho has held a variety of leadership roles in the field of education over the past 21 years and is extremely passionate about helping others. She said the following about the opportunity to support these young leaders, “Youth-led initiatives are inspiring and so very powerful to watch in action. I’m looking forward to this experience with the Bezos Scholars Program.”

Brown has been an educator for three years and served in her current position as English Department Chair for two years.

“Our young people are exactly the ones we need to help solve issues in our communities,” Brown said. “Through programs like Bezos Scholars, their passion and ideals can guide us and shape the future they will inherit.”

The Bezos Family Foundation annually selects rising public high school seniors who apply with an educator partner to the year-long leadership development program, founded in 2005.

The program begins with an all-expenses paid trip to the Aspen Ideas Festival. After attending the Festival, Scholars return home to organize their own community change projects, known as Local Ideas Festivals (LIFs).

The Scholars’ varied interests and passions shine through their LIF, which also intersect with the unique opportunities and needs of their communities. Though the possibilities are limitless, previous LIFs have centered on topics like the arts, global issues, the environment, education, health, and civic engagement.

Since the program’s inception, roughly 48,000 attendees have participated in a LIF.

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