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7 Local Generation Zs Prove Age Is Only A Number

Post-millennials are already beginning to make a mark on the world. Known as Generation Zs, these local seven stand-outs are proving their athleticism, leadership, intelligence and volunteerism.

Zoe Benedetto

Zoe Benedetto, 12

FLVS online school

We’ll let her sponsorships speak to her surfing career: Hurley, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Native Eyewear, FCS, Girl Is NOT a 4 Letter Word and more. Zoe Benedetto is the points leader for The USA Surfing America Prime East Coast U16 Girls. She was awarded the wild-card spot for the WSL QS 6000 Florida Pro Surf Contest, which was the first World Surf League Qualifying Series Contest of the year and the highest ranked contest for women. The Palm City resident is currently ranked third in the nation in the National Scholastic Surfing Association. And she’s won four East Coast Championships. To give back, she works with Share the Stoke Foundation, an organization that donates Firewire and Slater Design surfboards to kids all over the world.

How did you get started?

My mom is a surfer. She taught me and my brother and sisters to surf. I learned while she was running Surf Camp out at Jensen Public Beach and Stuart Public Beach. I remember my first real wave was on this yellow foam surfboard. I think I was about 5. One of the counselors pushed me into a wave and I just popped right up and turned the board down the line. That was it. I was hooked.

Is there anyone who has helped you to reach your goals?

Shea Lopez has been a huge influence in my surfing career. He is an ex-professional Championship Tour surfer and an amazing coach. I have been surfing under his guidance since I was 6. He helps me understand the waves and how to surf to my full potential. He also helps me understand the business end of surfing and helps me navigate the industry and contests.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?

The best advice I have been given and that I can give is love what you do and have fun doing it. My dad also quotes Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh: “Attack each day with enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

Allison Sanchez

Allison Sanchez, 16

The Pine School

As a sophomore in high school, Allison Sanchez reflects on years of parent-teacher conferences dating back to kindergarten. She would always be described as a “stop-and-smell-the-flowers sort of girl.” It was this trait that led to her love for photography. “I think I’m drawn to photography because instead of memorizing every vein pattern of every leaf in every park for hours, I can take a picture and look at it for years,” she says. The Stuart resident is not only an award-winning photographer, but she also serves as the co-chair of her school’s Recycled Runway fashion show, and she’s the communications liaison for her school’s Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Dealing with any kind of feedback is a challenge. Receiving good feedback does not mean you can sit back and stop trying, it means you are doing well and will have to work even harder to maintain that. Conversely, I’ll take a picture and think it’s the absolute best, and I’ll show it to someone else who doesn’t agree. It’s sometimes difficult to be confident in your work when you know not everyone will appreciate every piece.

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

In the recent Scholastic Arts & Writing competition I earned three gold medals, one silver medal and five honorable mentions for my photos. I am the first person in the history of my school to bring home three golds from this competition, and that is such an amazing feeling.

What do you hope to be when you “grow up?”

Since the third grade I’ve been a camper/counselor at MacArthur Beach State Park’s marine biology camp, so I have a very sincere love of marine life. I would love for my job to include travel, and I am also bilingual and very interested in learning more languages. My dream job would be traveling the world as a photojournalist with a specialty in underwater photography.

Conner MacDonald

Conner MacDonald, 14

The Pine School

Growing up on a golf course in Willoughby, Conner MacDonald observed the sport from a young age. And by the time he was 5, he won his first junior tournament. Now, he currently plays in the U.S. Kids Winter Tour, South Florida Jr. PGA, Hurricane Junior Golf Tour, IMG Junior Tour, and this summer he will compete in the Cape Cod Junior Golf Association tour and the New England Jr. PGA for his third year. The Stuart resident also finds ways to give back, volunteering with the Carpenter’s Kitchen at St. Joseph’s Church and the Special Olympics golf team. “My volunteerism and personal goal achievements just earned me the Congressional Award at the bronze medal level,” he says. “I’m currently working on the silver award level.”

Tell me about your proudest moment.

Getting one of the students, Billy, from the Special Olympics to hit the golf ball for his very first time.

What do you hope to be when you “grow up?”

A professional golfer. Plan B, an attorney.

What has been the key to your success?

Definitely time management and practicing the skills I have learned and been given to me by my golf coach.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?

Just recently during a tournament, my golf coach, Matt DeJohn said, “Post a score that you’ll be proud of.” It stuck, and I did.

Niki Afshar

Niki Afshar, 17

Saint Edward’s School

Niki Afshar first started volunteering when she was in sixth grade by getting involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Now, as she finishes her senior year and serves as one of the presidents of the community service club at her high school, Niki continues to give back, working with Habitat for Humanity; volunteering at Power Hour, an after-school homework helper program; and more. Most notably, Niki has raised more than $30,000 in the mid-Atlantic and Florida for Relay for Life. “For me, community service isn’t about the hours accrued; it’s about the people I help,” she says. “It’s about the children who master a reading assignment, or a child who lights up when I read English, or the handshake from a cancer survivor who lives to tell their story.”

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

One of my greatest accomplishments has been seeing real changes and improvements in the kids from all levels and mediums that I work with. It shows that they really are taking into account the help and support you’ve given them, and it shows that you are doing something right; that what you’re doing is making an actual, visible difference.

What do you hope to be when you “grow up?”

I want to work as an elementary school teacher in public schools for a while, but my long-term goal is to get involved in education policy. I want to be able to be a contributing force to the much-needed advancements in public education in our country.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?

The best advice I’ve ever been given is that your actions are a greater reflection of who you are than your predispositions. As long as you recognize that your initial thoughts aren’t free of judgments, you can act accordingly, fairly and kindly.

Andie Smith

Andie Smith, 15

The Pine School

Andie Smith played in her first golf tournament when she was 7 years old. Her father introduced her to the game, buying her first set of clubs when she was just 3 years old. Now, Andie plays on the varsity team at The Pine School, through which she’s been awarded All-Area First Team three years in a row. In addition to golf, the Hobe Sound resident has a passion for giving back. She’s competed in tournaments and volunteered with U.S. Kids and South Florida PGA, as well as helped out at The Honda Classic. This summer she’ll also be traveling to Jamaica to help build schools with money raised from the Rafe Cochran Golf Classic with Food for the Poor.

What has been your greatest accomplishment?

Qualifying to go to states and placing 10th in my first states championship shooting 74-71.

Who is your role model?

My father is my role model. He always believed in me to do my best, try my hardest and never give up.

What do you hope to be when you “grow up?”

The LPGA would be a dream come true, but I also hope to follow in my father’s footsteps and work in the financial markets.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?

My father would always say to me, “It takes nine good shots to make up one bad shot.” This saying shows that success doesn’t come easily, and only with hard work and dedication.

Brian Villa

Brian Villa, 18

John Carroll High School

Being the salutatorian of his high school class would be enough, but Brian’s roster of renown doesn’t end there. The Palm City resident is president of student government, president of the math club, president of the Spanish honor society, founder of the teenage youth sailing club at Treasure Coast Youth Sailing Foundation and a weekly volunteer at the emergency room in the Jupiter Medical Center. “Whether it be volunteering down in the ER or founding a high school sailing group, I tend to take advantage of opportunities that combine leadership with helping other people,” he says. Brian will graduate this spring and continue his education at the University of Notre Dame.

What has been your proudest moment?

The week before our school’s Christmas break, student government and I decided to quickly raise some money for orphaned children in our area that weren’t going to have a great Christmas. The moment I realized I had led my school to raise over $500 in less than a week for a great cause; that was my proudest moment.

What do you hope to be when you “grow up?”

A medical doctor.

What has been the key to your success?

Working super hard and doing what I like while keeping the big picture in mind.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?

Don’t stress about stuff too much because as long as you try your best, it’s all going to work out in the end.

Sophia Siegel

Sophia Siegel, 18

The Pine School

After moving to Stuart in 2011, Sophia Siegel joined The River Kidz group in the sixth grade to advocate for clean water. Throughout her membership, the Stuart resident has participated in rallies, oyster restorations, beach cleanups and political hearings. She traveled to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., two summers ago to speak about local water issues, and shortly after traveled to Florida’s State Capitol in Tallahassee to present her case. She’s interned with State Rep. candidate Crystal Lucas and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy during his run for senator. Recently, she shifted her focus from politics, joining her school’s Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam as the communications lead. The group aims to provide researchers and the public with information about the ecosystem’s health. “I was drawn to it because I realized it was another way to spur change,” she says. “The purpose of science and technology is to make discoveries, find out reason, provide explanations.”

What has been your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge, quite honestly, has been facing the reality of politics. Money is power, and to deny that would be ignorant. Politicians take money from large corporations/donors, and adjust the policy according to the donors’ wishes. It’s hardly ever in the constituent’s best interest. Instead, it’s in the money’s.

What has been the key to your success?


What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?

The best advice I’ve ever received is that connections are everything. I truly believe in this. It’s not hard to find them, either. If you take initiative and look around, you’ll find they’re everywhere.