Bullying was on the minds of Brian Rodriguez, Marisela Casas and Nancy Rosales on Wednesday.
The Seaside High School juniors attended a "social innovation camp" organized by Junior Achievement at the Steinbeck Institute of Arts and Culture in Salinas. During the daylong event, students had to identify a social problem and come up with a plan to address it.
Then, they would present their plan to a group of business leaders, who would later choose the top three presentations.
Bullying was on the students' radar screen because it is something they see in their community constantly, they said. So they planned to create a documentary to address the problem, raise funds through social media and give away bracelets and T-shirts to spread the message.
Other students identified different issues: Lacresha Goodin, Samuel Meza and Tiara Gray wanted to address childhood obesity through sports in after-school programs.
Zachary Thomas and Gregory Haught planned to spread the word about the dangers of having unprotected sex.
Anthony Martin, Deveraux Evans and Uriel Cruz wanted to teach automotive skills to homeless men to give them the means to earn a living and help themselves out of poverty.
Sarah Camacho, Maria Juinio and Megan Lopez chose teenage pregnancy in the Philippines as their issue to address.
They all made PowerPoint presentations to the judges, including John Narigi of the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa and Mark Verbonich of the Pebble Beach Co.
"I was nervous," Casas said. "But I really liked expressing what we had come up with. We usually don't have that, some adults think our ideas are not as important or worth listening to."
This is the first time that Junior Achievement organized a social innovation camp in Salinas, said Taran Barca-Hall, Junior Achievement's district manager. He invited students from high schools in Salinas and surrounding areas to participate, but the only attendants were 14 students from Seaside High School.
The issue there appears to be transportation, Barca-Hall said. Most districts eviscerated their transportation budgets in previous years of cuts.
Ideally, the program should have about 40 to 50 participants and students have to compete to get in, but for the first time, he was happy with the results, he said.
The students are doing "amazing projects," he said.
The idea behind the camp is to teach entrepreneurial practices combined with business literacy and civic awareness and social responsibility, Barca-Hall said.
"It challenges our high school students to think in a way they would not normally do," he said.
After the presentations and the judges deliberated in a separate room, the winners were announced.
Third place went to Goodin, Meza and Gray for their program to fight childhood obesity. Second place went to Thomas and Haught for their plan to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. First place went to Rodriguez, Casas and Rosales for their anti-bullying program. The top winners earned $150 in cash.
"I can't believe it," Casas said. "I didn't think we could win."
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.