Jennifer Hernandez, left, a Windsor High School senior, is introduced by Katie Welch, Director of Program Services of the Boys and Girls Club before giving a speech in March. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Jennifer Hernandez had four essays to write on a recent Thursday evening for her classes as a senior at Windsor High School.

Yet, as is the case most every day, her first stop after school was the Boys and Girls Club on Brooks Road where she regularly helps younger students with homework and projects.

“I think it’s very important to help children reach their full potential,” said Hernandez, 17.

Hernandez, who joined the club in Windsor when she was in sixth grade, is in the running to become California Youth of the Year, an annual speech contest held by the Boys and Girls Club. She’s up against eight other finalists from across the state who will compete Wednseday and Thursday.

If selected, Hernandez has a shot at earning higher honors, meeting President Barack Obama and receiving a $50,000 scholarship.

Hernandez was chosen to represent the Boys and Girls Clubs Central Sonoma County because of her devotion to younger members, said Michelle Edwards, vice president of youth.

“Jennifer is always there and steadfast; she feels like a member of the team,” Edwards said. “We can’t imagine a more wonderful example.”

Hernandez began studying dance with the Windsor Dance Academy at age 5 and playing soccer at age 8.

“Sports help me relieve my stress, dance especially. It’s a passion,” Hernandez said.

She’s part of Windsor High’s dance team and does choreography. Hernandez’s mother, Sylvia Hernandez, runs an event planning business for quinceañera celebrations. Hernandez choreographs dances for girls preparing for the celebrations, held near their 15th birthdays.

Hernandez appeared on the cover of Quinceañera Magazine.

“Oh yes, she’s always been busy; that’s the way she is,” Sylvia Hernandez said.

For her senior project, she is studying her family’s experience immigrating to the United States. Her maternal grandfather was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s bracero work program.

Hernandez’s interest in cultures is in part informed by her experience helping to translate English to Spanish for older relatives. Her family speaks “Spanglish” at home and she’s gained a deep appreciation for how understanding different languages and cultures can broaden a person’s perspective.

Hernandez said that she is driven each day to work hard in part because of challenges her family is facing.

A close family member has battled brain cancer for the past four years. Her mother was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

In the fall, Hernandez plans to attend University of San Francisco and study international relations. She imagines working for the foreign service, a job that could show her the world.

“I think it’s really important for others to give back in any way that they can. It builds character,” Hernandez said.

NAME: Jennifer Hernandez

Age: 17

Birthplace: Santa Rosa

Lives with: parents Sylvia and Jose Hernandez, sister Makenzie

Favorite hobby: Dance and sports

Dream job: Foreign service officer or translator for a government organization

Favorite TV show: Pretty Little Liars and Criminal Minds

Favorite food: Anything Mexican

Quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or