Orange Blossom court proud of honor in difficult year

Orange Blossom Festival reveals the four LHS students who will serve as the 2021 court attendants

LINDSAY – Lindsay’s celebration of spring and the bloom of its boon crop will be put on hold for the second year in a row as the pandemic draws on. But that doesn’t mean the city will go without an Orange Blossom Festival queen and court.

This year’s court consists of Fatima Lemus-Ibarra, Briana Hernandez, Isabelle Sanchez and Alexis Leon. The 2021 queen will be announced in next week’s issue of The Sun-Gazette.

Fatima Lemus-IbarraCourt Attendant, Orange Blossom Festival 2021

Fatima knows firsthand the importance of hard work, sacrifice, gratefulness, and education. Fatima grew up in a trailer outside of Lindsay with her parents, Kati Ibarra and Jesus Lemus, and her three siblings, Kimberly, Marisol and Sebastian. With her family, she has traveled every year since she was 10 to the home of her parents in Michoacan, Mexico, and followed the harvest season from Lindsay to Oregon and Washington and back again. Fatima’s parents would take her to see how difficult working in the fields and orchards is and would impress on her the importance of education. These experiences have inspired her to work hard while appreciating what she has.

“Value everything you have,” she said. “There’s really people out there that don’t have what you have, and don’t have the opportunities, and me being able to have them, even if it’s little, you have to learn how to value things.”

As one whose food, housing and clothing is directly tied to the orange groves, the Orange Blossom Festival holds special significance for Fatima. For as long she can recall, she has attended the event. She remembers being first in line to cheer for her school at the parade. She is honored to be a member of the 2021 court, representing her family, friends and culture.

“It means a lot,” Fatima said, “especially being a daughter of immigrants and farmworkers.”

It is an honor well-deserved. Fatima played junior varsity and varsity soccer for four years and volleyball for three years, winning MVP her junior year. She volunteered with the STARS program, the Migrant Program, and the Lindsay Local Hospital District. Being able to help her community at the hospital district during the pandemic has brought her a lot of joy, Fatima said. As a talented guitarist, music is also important in Fatima’s life. She has been a member of the Lindsay High School Guitar Honor Group and loves performing at live events throughout Lindsay or just jamming with her dad.

Fatima recognizes how these experiences have given her confidence and helped her through the challenges of the past year. She encourages her peers not to lose hope but to get involved, help others and find something they love to do.

Looking to the future, Fatima wants to continue helping others. She plans to attend Fresno State University to ultimately obtain a master’s degree and become a speech-language pathologist.

When asked if she has any advice for other students, she said, “Just work hard. At the end of the day, it pays off.”

Briana HernandezCourt Attendant, Orange Blossom Festival 2021

Born to Norma and Richie Hernandez in Tulare and raised in Lindsay, Briana “Bri” Hernandez is a lifelong Lindsay native who praises her parents for the love, opportunities, support and direction they provided her and her two brothers, Richie and AJ. With wisdom beyond her years, Bri looks back and thanks her parents for that upbringing, even for the things she didn’t want to do at the time, like basketball. She went out for basketball her freshman year—and made varsity.

“I thank him for making me do it,” she said of her dad, “because now I love it.”

She loved it so much that she also coached youth boys basketball. “It was a fun experience seeing how much energy and how happy the young athletes were,” Bri said. “I also enjoyed getting to know them and just learning about their lives. This experience really helped me make the decision on what I want to do as a career.”

That career is teaching. It wasn’t just coaching that inspired her, though, but a teacher at LHS, Sarah Chelgren. “This person will forever have a special place in my heart,” Bri said.

“My hope is to make an impact on several learners in this community as she did to me,” she said. “I would like to thank her for being so helpful, kindhearted, loving, and such an amazing role model.”

After attending College of the Sequoias, Bri plans to transfer to California State University, Monterey Bay, to obtain a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and her teaching credential. She also sees a master’s degree in school administration in her future.

She has already developed an impressive resume toward that future. Bri has served as AVID president, class vice president, Block L vice president, and team captain of her volleyball and basketball teams. She is on track to become the first person to complete four years of leadership at LHS. She has also volunteered at the concession stand for football games and is the Commissioner of School Spirit. These experiences have sharpened her leadership and communication skills and taught her patience, Bri said.

Her hard work and accomplishments make her a fitting addition to the Orange Blossom Festival court, an honor that she felt shocked, thankful, and excited about, she said. “I could not believe out of so many wonderful girls I had been selected,” Bri said. “I feel fortunate for this opportunity.”

It has also renewed her optimism for the future, after such a trying year for young people. “I was really sad about my senior year due to COVID,” she said. “And when they showed up, I was like, ‘Wow, there’s still hope in my senior year.’”

And she wants to share that hope with others. She reminds her peers to look to the future and think about what they can do now to achieve their goals.

“Don’t be scared,” she said. “Get out there and get involved, let your voices be heard, never give up, and, most importantly, have fun.”

Isabelle SanchezCourt Attendant, Orange Blossom Festival 2021

The examples of her parents, her grandmother, teachers and coaches throughout her life, and even past OBF court attendants have inspired Isabelle Sanchez to believe in herself, work hard, and love others. Now, an attendant of the court herself, she sets an inspiring example for others to follow.

“Being selected as a member of the court is probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to me, especially during a time like this,” Isabelle said. “I am so grateful and honored that I was even considered to be chosen to take on this role as an attendant.”

Isabelle, the daughter Carlos and Elisa Sanchez and the younger sister of Alyssabeth Salas and Carlos “Danny” Sanchez, has demonstrated her leadership potential throughout her high school career. She has received academic awards, been on the honor roll, and participated in multiple clubs. These clubs include Lindsay Leads, Associated Student Body, Future Business Leaders of America, Block L, and California Scholarship Federation. She also played soccer and softball, earning the MVP award for softball her junior year.

Isabelle takes an active role in helping others in her community. She assisted teachers at Washington and Reagan elementary schools with setting up classes to get ready for the new school year. Wanting to help provide solutions for the pandemic, she volunteered with the COVID Clear Lindsay project.

“Each one of these activities has taught me to be responsible, respectful, open-minded, and patient,” Isabelle said, “as well as gaining leadership and public-speaking skills.”

While this pandemic has been uniquely challenging for high school children, Isabelle encourages others to look to the future with optimism and hope. She believes that, even if things feel like they’re falling apart, they can get through it by having a healthy, growth mindset.

Isabelle excelled in her academics, too. She has been taking college-level courses through College of the Sequoias while completing high school. This experience helped her realize she is capable of more than she thought. She has already completed a full year of college.

Through her volunteer experience at the elementary schools and because of the inspiring teachers she had in elementary school, Isabelle wants to pursue a career as a teacher for grades 4 through 8. After attending College of the Sequoias, she plans to transfer to Fresno State to earn her bachelor’s degree and credential and then a master’s degree.

Talking about the teachers that inspired her, she said, “I want to be that person for future learners. One that watches their kids grow, mature, inspire them with new knowledge, mentor them, and be a voice for them when needed.”

When asked what advice she has for younger students, she said, “Never give up.”

Alexis LeonCourt Attendant, Orange Blossom Festival 2021

Born in Visalia to Angel and Lorena Leon, Alexis “Lexi” Leon was raised with her siblings Gabriela and Chris in Lindsay. Lexi remembers going to the Orange Blossom Festival as a young girl. It was her favorite part of the year, she said, and still is. She loved the excitement of seeing the court attendants dressed like princesses. When little Lexi asked her mother about them, she recalls her mother saying they were great role models for Lindsay. Now Lexi is one of those role models, and she considers herself fortunate to receive the honor.

The achievements that helped her earn this honor are many. Among them, notably, are ranking academically in the top one percent of her class at LHS. She also has been taking classes at Porterville College and College of the Sequoias and will be the first student to graduate from LHS with her high school diploma and associate degree.

Of her achievements, Lexi said, “I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without the support of my family. It’s been a group effort and a true blessing.”

Lexi also demonstrates the promising qualities of leadership and service through her extracurricular choices. Her affiliations include Associated Student Body, Future Business Leaders of America, Block L, Rotary Club, Lindsay Leads, Team Empower, California Scholarship Federation, Hospital Guild Fundraiser, and Cardinal Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards (CESPYS), including sitting as the co-chair for a new sports banquet, and more.

Lexi has excelled in athletics, too. She played on the varsity volleyball, soccer, and swim teams. Volleyball holds a special place in her heart, she said, because her dad was her first volleyball coach and introduced her to the sport. It is partly through sports that Lexi has learned the true meaning of hard work and determination, she said. She also appreciates the example set by the athletic director and coaches.

“My coaches and athletic director have fought hard for Lindsay High’s athletes to have a season,” she said. “It took many meetings, discussions, and finding alternatives to make the most of the situation. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be playing sports my last year of high school. They taught me that if I never give up and work hard I can accomplish my goals.”

Lexi is currently working towards being recruited to play volleyball at the collegiate level. She is currently undecided where she will continue her education, but she plans on going to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication.

Lexi is proud of being part of such a humble, hardworking community, she said.

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