By Melanie DeStefano
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), General William Maxwell Chapter, held an award ceremony March 5 to recognize students from Warren County and beyond for a variety of merits.
Five Warren County high school seniors were presented the Good Citizenship Award. The faculty at each school selected three students based on an outstanding demonstration of dependability, service, leadership, and patriotism. The senior class then selected the final winner.
The selected students were then eligible to enter the DAR Good Citizen Scholarship Contest. To enter for the scholarship, the students were weighed not only on their citizenship, but academics and letters of recommendation. The hardest part, though, according to the chapter winner, Rayna Harrison, of Belvidere High School, was the timed essay.
“It’s pretty nerve-wracking sitting in a room by yourself surrounded by papers,” she said. The students were not made aware of the essay question ahead of time. This year’s topic was “Of our American Rights and freedoms, which one would you choose to celebrate and why?”
Though she did not receive the state scholarship, she was in the top ten applicants in New Jersey.
In addition to playing multiple sports, participating in several school bands, and editing and photographing for the yearbook, Rayna is an active volunteer. A member of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary, Rayna says that every little bit of help goes a long way.
“They [the veterans] do so much for our country, so helping them with the little things is the least we can do,” she said. “They appreciate the little things.”
Rayna, an avid equestrian, plans to study biology with a pre-veterinary track at Centenary College.
Four other area seniors were also recognized as good citizens.
Marjorie Lizarzaburu, of Phillipsburg HS, is a scholar in the National Honor Society, runs cross country and plays lacrosse, and is active in her local soup kitchen. “Every parent’s dream,” said DAR committee member Lisa Intili, Marjorie decided to begin working and paying her own bills as soon as she could.
She was described in her nomination from faculty as “hard-working, not afraid of challenges, attentive, disciplined, and mature.” She plans to attend Moravian College for Business Administration.
Dominique Marie Voitek, of North Warren Regional High School, is in the National, Math, and Spanish Honor Societies, is an athlete, and plays violin during mass at her church. Seventh in her class, she is also a cheerleading coach and spearheaded a plan to revamp the hallways in her school with murals.
“Dominique is a rare and special student that sometimes is gone before a school starts to realize the degree to which she has changed the face of North Warren forever,” said a faculty recommendation. She plans to pursue a career in the medical field.
Samantha Lee Epstein, of Warren Hills Regional High School, is always finding new ways to volunteer. Active in drama, select choir, and the Peer Leaders program in school, she finds time to volunteer at homeless and animals shelters, as well as devoting time to Feed the Need, Relay for Life, and the Special Olympics. Her job as a barn manager is leading the way to pursuing a biology and pre-vet track at Ithaca College.
Her nomination stemmed from the way she encourages respect of diversity through example. She earned accolades for her work breaking down barriers of race, orientation, socio-economics, and physical and mental ability.
“I’ve only come across a small handful of students who are on or near her level of maturity, commitment to excellence, and dedication to the concept of community,” said one of her teachers.
Unable to attend the ceremony due to her busy athletic schedule, Elisabet Ruiz-Torres, of Hackettstown High School, is a member of the National Honor Society and multiple clubs, tutors students in math and chemistry, and is a writer for her school newspaper. She is a dedicated student athlete and participates in track & field, swimming, and archery. She is on the All-American Paralympics Track & Field Team for Discus and Javelin, and she hopes her hard-work and training will lead to a spot at the Tokyo games in 2020. Active in her church, Elisabet, among other volunteer opportunities, acts as a Spanish-English translator during church service projects.
Essay Awards Presented
Also honored at the awards ceremony were six students who participated in the chapter’s annual essay contests.
Warren County Technical School’s Amber Francy, a 10th grader, was recognized for her Christopher Columbus Essay. This year, students had to write an essay comparing Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the new world with Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Amber compared the two men’s accomplishments and controversies, including the price of their respective fame.
“Both Columbus and Lindbergh were innovators in their fields,” she wrote. “Although many men tried to take these journeys and failed, these two fantasists achieved their dreams.”
On the topic of the Stamp Act and Taxation without Representation this year, the American History Essay Contest is open to area 5th-8th graders. This year’s eighth grade winners, Lily Folsom (3rd place), Ellie Hauptly (2nd place), and Emma Zande (1st place), all attend Califon Public School. Sixth grader Caitryn Tronoski, of Long Valley Middle School, was an award winner for the second year in a row. Last year she was second place for fifth grade essays.
Isabella Di Lizia, also of Long Valley Middle School, was not only the chapter’s winner for the 7th grade, but was surprised by American History Committee member Fran Long with the announcement that she won the contest at the state level, as well.
“It’s a challenge to do these writing contests, but it’s a nice challenge and worth it in the end,” she said.
Her essay was in the form of a short story filled with period detail, believable characters, and a good dose of historical references. A creative writer and poet, Isabella’s favorite subject is English and she wants to pursue Literature when she is older.
The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution General Maxwell Chapter is based in Belvidere, but also includes members from Morris, Hunterdon, Somerset, and Middlesex Counties. The group meets seven times a year with additional scheduled activities throughout. The mission of DAR is to promote historic preservation, education, and patriotic endeavors.