Teens are providing youth perspective to Rancho Bernardo Community Council

Sofia Caruso and Lilia Montiel say they understand the issues at Rancho Bernardo better since they joined the Rancho Bernardo Municipal Council in January as student representatives.

Both are 16-year-old juniors from Rancho Bernardo High School with one-year tenures on the council.

Caruso, a lifelong Rancho Bernardan, said she enjoys how community residents come together in the council to organize events and talk about issues facing the community.

“It’s really informative and not what I expected,” said Caruso. “I like to go to the meetings and hear people like councilwoman Marni von Wilpert … and representatives from the police and fire departments.”

Montiel said she wanted to be a student representative since eighth grade, when she attended an RB Community Council meeting to accept an award and saw teenagers among the members.

Last fall, her mother saw the application notice in the Rancho Bernardo News Journal asking for high school juniors to apply.

“I was really excited and found it so interesting to be a part of my community, to pass information from high school to the local council and (vice versa) … I’m becoming a part of something bigger.”

RB Community Council president Robin Kaufman said the group has had student representatives since 2015. She got the idea from the Rancho Peñasquitos Town Council, which had student members.

“I thought it would be a good idea to have students in this age group in the community sharing their ideas, concerns, and problems,” Kaufman said.

Only high school juniors living in Rancho Bernardo are eligible to apply.

Of the current student members, Kaufman said, “We enjoy them. They are very mature, give good reports and have helped recruit youth volunteers for our last two events (Holiday and Earth Day). They interact well with adults and represent us very well.”

Caruso is the daughter of Joel Miller-Caruso and Keith Caruso. Montiel is the daughter of Andrea and Miguel Montiel.

“When I first saw the ad at the school’s career center, I thought it would be a good opportunity to expand my experiences since my previous ones were all school-related,” Caruso said.

These activities include the Fight Against Hunger Club, That’s on Period, which collects menstrual products for free on campus; Blue Crew, which helps students prepare for high school; and Politics Next Generation, which hosts talks on various political issues.

She is active in the Friday Night Live/Safe Promise Club, which supports community events on campus, like Red Ribbon Week, to raise student awareness of the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and vaping products, Caruso said. She also competes in shot put and discus during track and field meetings.

Montiel said her family moved to Rancho Bernardo from Albuquerque, New Mexico when she was in second grade.

In the last 10 years she has studied applied martial arts. She is a fourth-level junior black belt and is studying for her black belt, a process that requires passing six tests. She also works as an instructor for children ages 3-13 at Swift Kick Martial Arts.

“When I was little it was about how to defend yourself, but now it’s combat and what you do in a head-to-head,” Montiel said. “I love kickboxing because I have a little advantage in punches and kicks (due to my size) than in grappling.”

Since sixth grade, Montiel said she was in Best Buddies, a club that matches students with developmental or intellectual disabilities with students without those challenges. She also competes in the pole vault for the school’s varsity track and field team. She grew up around horses and has spent several summers working with trainers at horse training facilities and ranches as her aspiration to become an equine veterinarian.

Montiel said the local council award, which she received in eighth grade, was a recognition of her efforts to provide beds for children who don’t have a bed and are forced to sleep on the floor. She founded ZZZs 4 Kidz four years ago and has raised more than $15,000, enough to provide beds for 37 children in San Diego.

Both teenagers volunteered at the council’s recent Earth Day Fair in Rancho Bernardo by helping set up and at the craft table where children could make bird feeders using pine cones, peanut butter and bird seed.

Caruso said while she hasn’t been on the council yet, she also went to his holiday event last December.

“I met the mayor (Todd Gloria); that was pretty cool,” she said.

When asked what teens should know about the council, Caruso said, “It’s a very knowledgeable group of people who are passionate about their community.”

“It’s really a very interesting experience that all people have to have to see the leaders in the community and to know the issues,” she said. “I encourage them to attend meetings… and be actively involved in the community.”

“I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of the community that has been so amazing to me,” said Montiel. “It’s a joy to live at Rancho Bernardo, to grow up here…so I hope to be able to give back a little of what was given to me.”

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