Monday, May 22, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Joyce Calimag spends many mornings volunteering with Just One Project’s food and necessity distribution event on her high school campus in North Las Vegas.
Calimag, a senior and part of the first graduating class at Cristo Rey St. Viator College Preparatory High School, has also donated her time each week serving at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, Shade Tree and Three Square.
Her logic to volunteering is simple: She’s paying it forward.
“I’m giving back because they gave to me,” Calimag said. “Growing up, we were impoverished and needed resources from community groups. I want to help people facing the same struggles that I did.”
Calimag, who competed in volleyball, basketball and track for Cristo Rey, is a finalist in the category of Citizen of the Year at tonight’s Sun Standout Awards. The Sun’s annual prep sports show honors the best games, moments, teams and players of the past year of high school sports.
Calimag’s motivation to play sports wasn’t to participate in activities she was passionate about. And she had no aspirations to earn a college scholarship for athletics or to play professionally.
Rather, she went out for teams in junior high at St. Christopher Catholic School because it kept her on campus after class.
“I didn’t want to go home,” she said. “The only place I felt safe was at school.”
Calimag is extremely shy and only recently started detailing her family’s hardship. It takes great courage to admit that life hasn’t always been perfect, but Calimag hopes that by telling her story, other children with limited means can be inspired.
That’s what being a good citizen is all about.
Calimag said she didn’t always have stable housing and briefly needed to find shelter at Shade Tree. There were also plenty of times when she didn’t know where her next meal would come from.
Her parents are no longer part of her life, and she resides with extended family. While she needed help, she didn’t want anyone’s pity and felt it was important to give back.
“She has been through all of this adversity in her life, and survived and persevered,” said Chris Zunno, the dean of students at Cristo Rey and the former principal at St. Christopher. “That’s what makes this kid special — she never quit on herself.”
Calimag started developing confidence in herself at Cristo Rey, a Catholic high school that launched four years ago with a unique arrangement. Students are in the classroom four days a week and spend one day doing work study off campus.
The companies pay the school $34,000 for every four students who work for them, which is in turn used by the school to offset tuition. Most of the Cristo Rey families have limited economic means.
Calimag was paired to work with the Clark County Commission, where she did a little of everything behind the scenes in Commissioner Tick Segerblom’s office. Those Mondays at the commission helped give her confidence because she felt she was making a difference.
Some of the work was clerical, but other times it was sitting in on meetings where meaningful conversations were had. She felt like she was part of the process in making the community a better place.
“Our kids go to these places, and they are really part of the (workforce),” Zunno said. “She saw the commission in action and felt like she was part of that. It gave her a sense of worth and purpose.”
Segerblom recalled how the staff gave Calimag a task, and “10 minutes later it is done,” he said.
“First off, she’s incredibly competent,” he said. “She is the sweetest girl in the world. I was shocked to hear she was a shot-putter with her size (5 feet, 2 inches tall). Just a genuinely nice, easygoing and very confident kid.”
Calimag is just getting started on what she intends to be a life of service. She’ll attend UNR on scholarship in the fall to pursue a degree in social work, looking to continue advocating for the less fortunate.
And she won’t be afraid to tell her story. If she can overcome adversity, so can others — especially with her help.
“I didn’t have to accept my situation,” she said. “That was my motivation, to prove people wrong.”
Other finalists for the Citizen of the Year honor include: Leslie Maldonado Carrasco, a senior from Chaparral High School whose volunteer work includes planting trees with the nonprofit Green Up, leading a beautification project to enhance the school campus, and volunteering with Opportunity Village; and Adrian Rodriguez from Canyon Springs High School, who spent the early mornings feeding homeless veterans near downtown Las Vegas. He is part of the school’s JROTC and will be enlisting with the National Guard.