Paying for college is a challenge for most families these days.
Eighteen-year-old Janice Bonello, from Redwood City, is no different. She graduated from Summit Preparatory High School this June and wanted scholarship opportunities. Among the options was a competition to be the Queen of the Fair Oaks Festival, a distinction that comes with scholarship money to help with her plans of becoming a social worker. Last week, Bonello won the competition. This year’s top prize is the largest in the history of the competition, $10,000. This weekend, Bonello will be celebrating her new title during the Fair Oaks Festival in Redwood City.
Festival Director Catherine Tompkinson explained there is an evaluation after each year. Now in its 11th year, community leaders and volunteers noted last year that the students could benefit from higher scholarships. Tompkinson was thankful the sponsors were on board to provide each girl more than ever before, from $2,500 to $10,000.
For Bonello, the grand prize, double the amount given out last year, will help cover two years of college at California State University, Monterey. She plans to study health and human services and work with immigrant families, like her family which moved to the United States from Malta when she was 2.
While this is the sixth annual queen of the festival, the festival itself has a longer history.
The celebration began as a small community event taking up less than a block with about 1,500 people attending. This year’s event, which included national advertising spots, was expected to bring 40,000 patrons.
When it started, the festival was funded completely by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, but that was unsustainable. After a two-year hiatus, the festival returned seven years ago as a benefit for youth programs offered through the Sheriff’s Office like athletics, homework clubs, literacy clubs, anti-drug and gang programs and other education opportunities. Along with the reemergence came a public outcry for a queen — a traditional aspect to such festivals. The idea came to be one that would also support educational opportunities for the candidates.
Possible candidates go through a rigorous selection process which requires maintaining certain grades, collegiate plans and community service. Only five young ladies can be chosen to participate, but numerous applications are welcome. The competition is tied to ticket sales. Bonello noted the winning girl had always sold at least 2,000 tickets. Her goal was to sell more. She broke the record with more than 3,100 tickets sold.
Altogether the girls raised a record amount of money between the end of April and beginning of August — $30,000. Money raised goes to support community programs. This year’s festival also has some new features in hopes of reaching a younger crowd, said Tompkinson. Luche Libre wrestlers will be on hand to get things kicked off. But also, for the first time, the festival will include some techno/dance music along with more traditional tunes.
As the goal of the event is to inform the community, those who attend will also have an opportunity to donate blood and register for Be The Match, a company that helps find possible bone marrow donor matches.
The North Fair Oaks Community Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19 on Middlefield Road between First and Fifth avenues in Redwood City. For more information visit http://northfairoaksfestival.org.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.