It's been 17 years since the passing of Gervais High School student Jovita Reyes, yet her memory continues to live on in the youth that pass through the very halls that she once traversed.
Many of the contestants in this year's Mr. and Miss Gervais Pageant were born in 2000, the year Reyes passed, and have grown up knowing of the impact she has had on the community ever since.
Since the pageant's inception as a way of memorializing Reyes, Gervais High School students have raised more than $200,000 for Doernbecher Children's Hospital, including $11,846.30 from this year's pageant participants, including crowned Mr. and Miss Gervais Calder Ifft and Rachel Poot.
"What it does for the community, obviously it gives money to Doernbecher, but also it pulls this community together," Ifft said.
After helping behind the scenes as a sophomore and junior, Ifft got a first-hand look at the fundraising process this year and soon discovered what kind of work went into raising the money the pageant brings in. While participants are encouraged to come up with their own fundraising methods, much of the money the pageant brings in comes from the countless letters the participants send out each year.
"I started realizing that, when the letters started coming in, how many letters it takes to raise $1,000," Ifft said. "That's a lot of different families that donated money to just one cause."
Together, they were joined by classmates Derrick Jaramillo, Ashley Bond, Alejandro Isiordia, Naomi Saalfeld, Richie Luna III and Brandi Chiatovich in the annual fundraising entertainment program on Saturday that seeks to raise money for Doernbecher while preserving Reyes' memory and giving the Gervais community an opportunity to come together for a singular cause.
Fundraising for Doernbecher is one of the chief components of how the event is judged every year, and Bond led all contests with a whopping $2,516.50 raised.
She and Jaramillo coordinated the pageant last year and were familiar with what to expect going in.
"A lot of my close friends, their families, have been greatly helped at Doernbecher," Bond said. "So many people are helped and it's so great to see that."
This year's contestants comprised a variety of backgrounds, though they all share that they were chosen to compete and entertain due to their place as outstanding students at Gervais High School.
Some, like Ifft, Jaramillo and Luna, have been involved with past pageants and were acutely aware of the rigors that go into practicing every day after school for the months leading up to the program.
The three helped with wardrobe and backstage preps in each of the past two pageants, making the jump from backstage and wardrobe help to center stage this year.
They, along with Saalfeld, balanced their work on the pageant with after school athletics.
"It's very busy, but it's all worth it," Saalfeld said.
Luna and Jaramillo, who are teammates on the baseball team, brought their comedic antics to the stage during the talent portion as the lone duo to perform together. Jaramillo has been contributing every year in high school and is the fourth member of his family to participate in the pageant, making him the most seasoned member of the pageant to compete.
"I kind of had a good idea (of what to expect) after watching my siblings," Jaramillo said.
He, along with the rest of the pageant and coordinators Gabriel Lucas and Natali Herinckx, got to see Doernbecher in person leading up to the event, to see how the money is invested in the children's hospital.
"I liked it," Jaramillo said. "It was a nice experience seeing what the hospital does."
Isiordia had direct experience with Doernbecher as a baby and the return trip to the hospital made an impression.
"It was really eye-opening," Isiordia said. "We're so lucky to have everything that we have, compared to what those kids go through."
While some entered the pageant with a background in how it's put together and run, others like Chiatovich and Poot, were experiencing the pageant for the first time.
"There's a lot I didn't know," Poot said. "I expected the long hours, but it's more like the little things you find out about."
"I know it's a really good fundraiser for Doernbecher," Chiatovich said. "That's the main reason I wanted to be a part of it."
They each came to the event with different backgrounds and talents, but all finished Saturday's program dressed in their formal wear in front of an audience of friends, family and community members reflecting on the experience they had and the bonds they built with their pageant partners over the course of past few months.
"I loved spending time with these people, my friends," Poot said.