Samantha Slykas isn’t a stranger to making differences in her community.
Not only has the San Benito High School sophomore been part of her San Benito County 4-H club for six years, but her mother, Dee, has taught her the importance of giving back by having served the Hollister community herself for 20 years.
The two have volunteered with such organizations as the Hollister Veterans of Foreign Affairs, Chamberlain’s [Children Center] and the nationwide Coastal Cleanup.
“So Samantha is used to volunteering,” Dee said.
What she wasn’t used to, though, was using her own experiences to serve her community.
“A couple of years ago, I was a victim of verbal sexual harassment,” said the 15-year-old.
After filing a harassment claim, however, Samantha found it going unresolved—and at a standstill.
Dee can recall her daughter’s discouragement.
“The worst question your child could ever ask you is ‘Where’s my justice?’” she said. “That just smacked me hard in the face.”
Samantha then sought support from Community Solutions in Hollister and advice from her mother (“We talked about taking a negative turning it into a positive,” Dee said), and decided to fight back by giving back.
“I realized how many people get victimized,” Samantha said. “And many don’t know what happened to them—or don’t know what to do after the fact—so I wanted to help more people get informed with what they can do and with who they can turn to.”
Samantha’s objective happened to come at an appropriate time; she happened to also be in the process of choosing a topic for her 4-H Emerald Star project (designed to help youth learn about project planning, organization and presentation).
So with the help of her 4-H representatives, she designed a project that would bring safety awareness to the community.
“This is the biggest [project] that 4-H has ever had in San Benito County,” Dee said. “Normally it’s not that big; it’s just usually picking up trash on the side of the road or collecting socks for the elderly.”
Last year, Samantha launched her first Safety Fair, which was free to the public.
She lined up presenters, local politicians and businesses to take part in informing the public about self-awareness and how to defend against bullying, harassment, physical abuse and more. Bryan Stow—an anti-bullying speaker and violence victim—presented to the guests, and community leaders were in attendance. Twenty informational booths from organizations and businesses were also set up.
“The first year was more than we were ever expecting,” noted Dee of the 250 attendees. “All of the seats were filled in the center—they had to bring out more during the event.”
Last year, however, Samantha had to start from square one with finding presenters and supporters. But this year?
“People were looking for her,” Dee said.
And to improve on this year’s event, Samantha referred to the comment box she had last year. One suggestion was to change the event time from early Saturday morning to one that didn’t conflict with kids’ sports games.
“So we are going to have it [this year] on Sunday, Feb. 9, from 12pm to 3pm,” Dee said.
Samantha has been preparing for this year’s event since October, “just really digging up information,” Dee said. “We get up early before she goes to school, we work on it for two hours every morning and then after school maybe a little bit here. If not, it can just get overwhelming.”
And the preparation has paid off so far—this year’s line of supporters has nearly doubled since last year.
While Samantha and Dee will present on such topics as bullying, cyber bullying, substance abuse and suicide prevention, Stow will also be back to present on anti-bullying awareness. Hollister Chinese Kempo and Community Solutions will also have self-defense demonstrations. At press time, Samantha had 36 organizations or businesses that will have booths (including San Benito Aquatics, Youth Alliance, Community Solutions, 4-H) and has many community leaders who will be in attendance; Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, Assemblyman Robert Rivas and county supervisors Jim Gillio and Mark Medina are just a few.
Gillio, the District 4 supervisor, has gotten to know Samantha while she’s organized these events.
“I am very impressed by Samantha’s leadership in the areas of safety, bullying and student safety,” he said. “Samantha’s ability to organize these safety events in our community, that attract several hundred people over 30 different presenters and community leaders, is amazing. Samantha is definitely a leader and one to watch in the future to continue to do great things.”
Erica Elliott, the Sexual Assault and Prevention Program Manager at Community Solutions, looks at Samantha as a great example of how youth can be leaders in the community.
“She does a lot of advertising and outreach herself,” Elliot said. “It’s great, it’s really amazing. She’s really an inspiration.”
While Samantha credits 4-H and Community Solutions for motivating her toward her goal, she considers her family as her main source of inspiration.
“Without them, I don’t know where I would be,” she said.
Dee said she is proud of her daughter and her accomplishments, and that Samantha hopes to continue serving her community—much like her mom.
“She’s made the comment that she wants to follow in my footsteps,” Dee said. “And I always make sure that this is what she wants to do…I want her to make sure she follows her own dreams. I can see this is near and dear to her heart, so I will support her 100 percent. We’re just very, very proud.”
The Safety Fair will be held in the main hall at Hollister Veterans’ Memorial Building, 649 San Benito St. in Hollister, on Feb. 9. The event is from noon to 3pm and is free to the public. For information, contact Dee Slykas at [email protected]