"I was like,'What?' I was very surprised," said Sunray High School student Leslie Mendoza describing her reaction to the moment at the 2019 Sunray High School Academic Banquet when her name was announced as the new Sunray Lions Club Sweetheart for 2019-2020. She was certain that one of the other six girls who had applied would be chosen, after all, she thought the other girls knew more people and would have an edge. Apparently, they did not.
She had applied to be sweetheart when she heard an announcement on the Sunray High School intercom that the Lions Club was taking applications. "I like to be very involved throughout our school, and I want to be a role model to the little kids, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to grow as a person," she said. Her experience with Lions Club had been limited. Her parents were not Lions, and Mendoza says she did not know a lot about the organization, but her friend, Sandra Arroyo, was the current sweetheart, and she talked about how fun the meetings were. So, Mendoza decided to take the plunge and apply. On Thursday, she was in Dumas dishing up beans at the Dogie Days barbecue with Lions from both Dumas and Sunray. Saturday morning, she and Arroyo rode together in a convertible in the Dogie Days parade, waving to people lining Dumas Avenue. It was her first taste of the kind of community service work the Lions perform each year. In addition to attending the meetings, the sweetheart takes part in the Lions Club charity and community service activities. Later in the summer, she will play a role in Sunray Funday, the largest annual fundraiser for the Sunray Lions.
Mendoza may not have known a lot about the Lions, but she had considerable experience performing community service, racking up more than 65 hours as a volunteer with the Athletic Booster Club and the Sunray Parent Teacher Organization, working concession stands, scoreboards and other things at various athletic events. She also helped maintain the "Blessing Box," a public container filled with food and other items that those in need can have access to.
Mendoza, a life-long resident of Sunray is an accomplished athlete and student. She was voted parliamentarian of the National Honor Society and received academic "high honors" for her schoolwork. She was named High School Student of the Month in March 2019, and the "Favorite Student" in English at the Academic Banquet in May of the same year. She took a culinary arts class as a sophomore and was named "Best Cook." She was voted "Junior Class Favorite." At the same time, she was involved in basketball, softball, track, power lifting, and cheerleading. She was awarded the "Bobcat Fighting Heart Award" for her athletic performance and spirit in 2019. Finally, she was voted "Most Likely to be Heard" by her fellow students in the annual "Koobreay Awards" put on by the yearbook staff. "I am very outgoing and friendly," she explained. "I like to laugh a lot."
School is important to her. She says Rachel Zerby is a teacher she finds particularly inspiring. "She is always busy, always caring about students. She is very involved."
"I like to hang out with friends, meet new people, volunteer, have fun ... and sing in the youth choir at Christ the King Catholic Church," she said about the rare moments she is not doing school work or playing sports.
Mendoza, the daughter of Nancy and Arnoldo Mendoza, has big plans for her future. "I want to go to W.T. (West Texas A&M University) or Tech (Texas Tech University) and major in pre-dentistry and become an orthodontist." She says she has had an interest in dentistry since childhood, though she has no idea where that interest comes from.
When the time comes, she will leave Sunray with great reluctance. "I like how it is a small community, and everyone knows each other, and you can be very involved and have a lot of friends," she said. "I am looking forward to enjoying my last year of high school. I don't want to graduate," she said laughing.
Until then, she will be sweetheart. At the weekly Lions Club meetings, she will have to give a report on her week's activities. "I like to talk, but sometimes I get nervous." There is also a lot of good-natured kidding that goes on between the sweetheart and the members. Her friend, Sandra, had some advice: "Don't take their jokes the wrong way." The sweetheart has a certain amount of power to get even for jokes directed at her, however. "She charges them. They have to put money in, if they are mean to her. It is something I would enjoy," said Mendoza laughing.