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Foote first in Rotary speech contest
Speech contestants
Turlock High School senior William Foote (center) won first place in the Rotary Clubs area speech contest held at the Ceres Community Center on Friday. At left is Malika Shoker, the second place winner from Central Valley High School. At right is Jhaala Curry, the third-place winner, from Ceres High School. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

William Foote, a Turlock High School senior, claimed first place in the Rotary District 5220 Area 12 speech contest Friday afternoon at the Ceres Community Center. The theme of the contest was "Making a Difference" as it applied to their current lives and toward their future, including educational goals and involvement in community service.

Foote advances to District 5220 Finals contest to be held March 24 at the Merced County Office of Education. The winner of that contest wins $1,000 and goes to Yosemite's Tenaya Lodge in April to deliver the speech at the 2018 District Conference.

Friday's competition involved two others, Central Valley High School's Malika Shoker and Ceres High School junior Jhaala Curry. Curry received third place and Shoker second place.

Foote was awarded $175 and Shoker and Curry each received $100.

"This decision that we make ... is a difficult one to make," said Jessie Ceja of the Ceres Rotary Club who organized the contest. "We felt all three speakers were great."

Foote first grew interested in Rotary speech competition as a sophomore because the campus' speech and debate program has a relationship with the Rotary Club of Turlock.

"When I first attended that Rotary Club meeting I thought it was super cool and then shortly after that I joined the Interact Club at my school," said Foote.

Curry said preparing for the speech contest helped her think about what she wants to do for herself in the future and further help her community of Ceres.

Shoker said the contest was an eye-opener as to the amount of work it takes to become successful - in her case a teacher.

Foote centered his speech on his recent interest in the stock market and applying his own investment approach in a virtual stock exchange that a financial advisor would "probably say is too heavy on the risk and too light on the returns." He then compared it to the Rotarians' real-life investments that reap great returns.

"Not only do Rotarians continue to support the decades-long fight against polio - which is near eradication thanks to the efforts of the organization in every corner of the globe - but it also seeks to stop the spread of other preventable diseases like malaria so that epidemics are worries of the past, and not the future," said Foote. "Educationally, Rotary mobilizes its forces to tackle illiteracy, an issue that presses the developing world and even some parts of the United States. One Rotary Club member, Mark Wilson, explains that these impacts extend further than just teaching one man, one woman, or one child to read. Instead, he says, ‘When you teach somebody how to read, they have that for a lifetime, and that effect ripples throughout the community, one by one by one.'"

Foote noted that he had to overcome shyness and step out of his comfort zone when he joined the Interact Club a year and a half ago. He said getting uncomfortable was necessary "to make a profit not for ourselves, but for our community."

With the help of Rotary-Interact advisor George Williams, Foote and two friends helped pioneer a budding relationship with the Haven's Women's Center, an organization which provides domestic abuse victims with clothes to wear, food to eat, and a shelter to live in until they can be moved to a safer, more stable location.

"In my work at the center, the club has pioneered a program in which we annually donated multiple boxes filled to the brim with clothes and hygiene products. But even further than that, I've gotten that perspective and insight into the world that I've always envied Rotarians for - the one that sees issues like domestic abuse as problems that we don't just have to feel sorry for, as but problems that all of us can help solve, no matter where we come from or what we look like. Reflecting a year and a half later and as the club's co-president, I've seen myself and those around me grow without a doubt as we actively seek to make a difference through volunteering and community outreach."

Foote noted that residents of many Third World nations find little "luck" in life with 5.9 million children under the age of five dying each year because of malnutrition, inadequate healthcare, and poor sanitation. He called Rotary's efforts to bridge this gap "monumental. The club has donated $9.2 million to help grow sustainable local economies in impoverished countries and provide safe, clean water to 23 million people.

"As a person born into a country with its own high infant mortality rate but was lucky enough to be adopted by a loving family here in the US, its efforts strike extremely close to home. Asking myself where I'd be had I not gotten so lucky, I am comforted by the fact that the obstacles I would have faced are the very ones that Rotarians are solving as we speak."

Jhaala Curry explained how she wants to take the California High School Proficiency Exam for early exit from high school. "How can taking this test help me make a difference in my community? I want to take this test because I want to further my education at an early age and show this world that this generation has the capability and the capacity of doing so much more than society tells us we can."

Curry said all people can capable of making a difference through "small actions" like "one word can start a friendship, one smile can brighten someone's day."

She spoke about how the Rotary Club has made a difference in its 112 years.

Malika Shoker noted how the Rotary Club supplies clean drinking water to poor communities worldwide.

"People may feel it's futile in trying to contribute to some large cause on their own. I was one of those people ... but I don't there's ever been a point in my life where I've been more mistaken."

Malika said she involved in the campus' Protecting Health and Slamming Tobacco (PHAST) club has allowed her to change her views about making positive changes. She said she interacted with sixth-graders to help them realize there are healthy alternatives to using tobacco products.

"It reiterated the powers of perspective and influence," said Shoker, who wants to become an English teacher.