Santa Ana graduate named High School Big Sister of the Year

Santa Ana resident Natalia Leon was recently named High School Big Sister of the Year and received a college scholarship.

Natalia Leon, 18, of Santa Ana was chosen as the 2022 High School Big Sister of the Year and was awarded a college scholarship.(Photo courtesy of Middle College High School)

The award is named after longtime supporter Angelitos de Oro. It recognizes students who volunteer as mentors and have a significant positive influence on the children they are paired with.

Leon, 18, has been with the organization for three years and mentored two elementary school children. Having had mentors herself, she said, she wanted to be an example for younger children, teach them to have a good attitude and do what they need to do to advance in life.

“I appreciate Natalia for being a great role model not only to her Littles, but also to her peers,” Evelin Soto, site-based program specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire, said in an email.

Leon is the first woman in her family to attend college. She recently graduated from Middle College High School in Santa Ana as well as Santa Ana College. She is headed to CSU Fullerton, where she will study business administration. She attributes part of her success to having mentors, including her college counselor.

USA Surfing juniors take bronze in ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador

USA Surfing’s junior team won team bronze in the 2022 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador, competing against a record 419 athletes representing 45 national teams.

USA Surfing’s junior team won team bronze in the 2022 ISA World Junior Surfing Championship in El Salvador.(Photo courtesy of USA Surfing)

In her ISA World Junior competition debut, 15-year-old Bella Kenworthy won the silver medal in the Girls Under-16 division with power surfing and smart positioning far beyond her years.

Zoe Benedetto, 17, took the copper medal in the Girls Under-18 division in tricky La Bocana conditions.

It was the first ISA World competition for all but two of USA Surfing’s team, with half the team finishing near the top 10.

Coach Ryan Simmons said that USA’s bronze medal finish was a huge point of pride and that the growth and team bonding were remarkable.

“This team was young and unproven on the big stage crew. But after the nine-day marathon they call the ISA World Junior, these travel team athletes are now grizzled veterans,” Simmons said.

– Submitted by USA Surfing

Tustin Area Man and Woman of the Year named

Longtime Tustin residents Mark Eliot and Kim DeBenedetto have been selected as Tustin Area Man and Woman of the Year for 2021.

Mark Eliot, who retired as director of communications and public information in the Tustin Unified School District, was named Tustin Area Man of the Year for 2021.(Photo by John McGuire)
Retired elementary school teacher Kim DeBenedetto was named Tustin Area Woman of the Year for 2021.(Photo by John McGuire)

The TAMWY program has been held for more than 60 years. Tustin residents are recognized for their dedicated work and outstanding volunteerism in the community. This year, seven men and 10 women were nominated for the award.

“I’m very honored and grateful to receive this prestigious award,” Eliot said.

Eliot served as director of communications and public information in the Tustin Unified School District for 36 years and retired in June 2021.

Over the years, Eliot volunteered his time supporting the Rotary Club of Tustin-Santa Ana, Tustin Area Council for Fine Arts’ Broadway in the Park, Tustin Public Schools Foundation’s Dinosaur Dash, Tustin Tiller Days and other local groups and programs.

Eliot was recognized as one of the “Superheroes of Tustin” in 2019 by the Tustin Community Foundation.

DeBenedetto attended local schools, graduated from Tustin High School and taught at Barbara Benson and Helen Estock elementary schools in TUSD for the last 20 years of her 32-year teaching career.

“I was completely surprised to receive this incredible honor,” she said. “This recognition means so much to me because I’ve lived in Tustin since I was 8 years old.”

Upon retirement, DeBenedetto jumped in full time as a volunteer with the Tustin Area Council for Fine Arts (TACFA), serving as president and vice president of fund development. She helped raise over $100,000 in sponsorships to fund Broadway in the Park and other programs. She also oversaw TACFA’s arts and music programs for TUSD students.

DeBenedetto also served as president of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy. She wrote an architectural walking tour of Old Town Tustin, and she’s a member of the Tustin Street Fair and Chili Cook-off Committee.

Additionally, DeBenedetto co-wrote and revamped the Tustin Area Historical Society’s History in a Box program for TUSD third grade students, and she co-wrote and narrated 10 YouTube videos about the Tustin Museum so that people could have digital access to Tustin history.

Eliot and DeBenedetto will become lifetime members of the TAMWY organization. They will also ride in the Tustin Tiller Days Parade as guests of honor on Oct. 1, and they’ll have their names permanently etched on a brick walkway in the plaza between the Tustin Library and the Clifton C. Miller Community Center at the Tustin Civic Center.

Irvine 7-year-old wins second place in international music competition

Violinist Ivy Zhiyi Mao, 7, of Irvine placed second in an international music competition.(Photo courtesy of Mao family)

Irvine music student Ivy Zhiyi Mao, 7, won second place in the spring 2022 King’s Peak International Music Competition (KPIMC) in strings age group A (5-7 years old).

Strings group A had 19 entries, and only two children won the competition, which strives to inspire classical musicians as they build their talents.

Because of the pandemic, Ivy has been taking violin lessons online from Tingting Wang, a violinist and instructor at America Chinese Youth Orchestra. Aside from music, the first grader loves math and arts.

The Bravo! section highlights achievements of our residents and groups. Send news of achievements for consideration to

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