Chilliwack secondary school graduate Alyssa Zucchet

Chilliwack graduate wins award for believing in others

Chilliwack secondary graduate Alyssa Zucchet won the local Optimist essay contest and placed third in the Pacific Northwest.

Alyssa Zucchet doesn’t believe anything is a lost cause.

Whether it’s bringing pristine beauty back to the Hope Slough, or helping struggling students become successful students, or getting into med school at the University of British Columbia.

“I will do it,” she said.

It’s that attitude that won the recent Chilliwack secondary graduate first place in the Chilliwack Optimist essay contest, and third place in the district Pacific Northwest contest.

Because Zucchet was assigned the essay in her English 12 class, it never occurred to her she could win.

“I was just looking at it as an assignment, not as something I could win,” she said.

But the topic was right up her alley: How my positive outlook impacts my community.

“I based my essay on the idea that everything and everybody has the potential to succeed, even if it’s not always blatantly obvious,” said Zucchet.

She wrote about leading Chilliwack secondary’s environmental club in cleaning up the Hope Slough, an area that was riddled with garbage and cigarette butts and other such sludge. She wrote about her endeavors as a school tutor; working with seniors at the Waverly Centre; and volunteering at Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, caring for Chilliwack’s most marginalized.

While some might look at underachieving students, the homeless and the Hope Slough as lost causes, not Zucchet.

“I don’t believe in lost causes,” she said. “I think if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything you want to – I know you can.”

Her tutoring is proof.

“Some people scoff at these students as being lazy, but I saw their determination and their desire to succeed,” Zucchet said. “With the help of their teachers and tutors, I believe they have the potential to impact their community one day. And I like to think that I had a part to play in that.”

However, even though the essay topic was seemingly perfect, the rules were anything but. Designed in the early 1900s, when Optimist International was first formed as a way of getting delinquent boys off the streets of Buffalo, the contest featured strict rules that could not be broken.

It couldn’t go over 750 words, the title had to be in quotation marks and centred at both the top of the first page and the title page, each page had to be numbered in size 12 font and located at the bottom centre of the page, and the staple also had to be meticulously placed.

Any rule that was broken would result in docked points.

“It was intense; if even one little thing was out of place, they’d dock you,” said Zucchet, who read the rules five times over, and spent three weeks tweaking and editing to ensure perfection.

“I’ve had strict rules before but that seemed over the top.”

Even though the competition was slim in Chilliwack, just three other competitors to beat out, it was fierce in the pacific northwest, up against hundreds of other aspiring writers from clubs in B.C., Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Zucchet came in third place, just one point off from winning scholarship money.

She doesn’t see it as a loss.

“I always push myself to do the best,” said Zucchet, who will be entering pre-med at the University of the Fraser Valley this fall with the intent of specializing in neurology at UBC down the road. “You’ll never know what you can do if you don’t even try.”

The Chilliwack Optimist Club hopes Zucchet’s wins will encourage other youth in the community to seek out their services.

The Optimist Club is a non-profit organization that has a mandate of bringing out the best in kids through a variety of youth support services. Last year, the Chilliwack club helped over 13,000 kids. And it wants to do more.

“We support anything to do with kids from wheelchairs to glasses to school supplies – anything,” said president Sam Mohan. “I wish to not be the best kept secret, and to allow for others in our community to learn of our youth support services.”

For more information on Chilliwack Optimist, contact Sam Mohan at 604-703-0095 or by email at sammohan01@gmail.com.

kbartel@theprogress.com

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