Reyes Figueroa loves Dade City.
And, he appreciates the east Pasco community’s acceptance in celebrating diverse cultures — particularly his Hispanic heritage.
Last month, the 17-year-old Pasco High School junior and Dade City Youth Council delegate won first place in the Florida League of Cities’ (FLC) Youth Council Photography Contest.
The winning photo, “Cinco De Mayo Parade,” was taken during the city’s Cinco de Mayo Parade & Fiesta, held annually at Resurrection Park. Captured on Figueroa’s iPhone, the image exhibits a youth folk dance troupe posing in traditional Mexican-style clothing.
Figueroa was humbled when he learned about the first place honor. “I was kind of surprised,” he said.
The Florida League of Cities’ photography contest encouraged youth council members throughout the state to take a picture of something that tells the story of why they love their city. Each photo had to be the applicant’s original work and accompanied by a brief statement of how that photo depicts the reason they love their city.
In his statement, Figueroa wrote, “I love Dade City because it has, and continues to, hold this event (Cinco De Mayo Parade) each year that is close to my people’s tradition.”
Figueroa, on behalf of the Dade City Youth Council, will receive a trophy and $300 reward at the Florida League of Cities’ annual conference on Aug. 19 in Orlando.
He also will be featured in the League’s statewide publication, Quality Cities (QC) magazine; and have the win presented on the organization’s website and Facebook and Twitter accounts.
It’s not the first time the Dade City Youth Council, which has roughly 10 members, has been recognized by the League.
Last year, the youth organization finished fourth place in the fifth annual Municipal Youth Council Video Competition.
The 60-second video, “Dade City: The Place to Be,” spotlighted the city’s distinct offerings, from bike trails to downtown shopping, and festivals and events.
Dade City’s Cinco de Mayo Parade, meanwhile, draws hundreds of patrons each year, to celebrate the Mexican Army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the 1862 Battle of Puebla.
The vibrant event on Lock Street, is highlighted by dancing, singing, games and traditional Mexican-style dishes.
Figueroa said he has attended the parade, with family and friends, for well over a decade.
The teenager noted the event’s food is a big hit.
“It would probably have to be No. 1,” Figuero said.
But, there are also “really cool” activities, like rock climbing and pickup soccer matches, he added.
“You always have different things coming up,” he said. “I like how they contribute something new every year.”
Figueroa has been a member of the Dade City Youth Council since he was in sixth grade and was recommended for a delegate position by Margarita Romo, who runs the Resurrection House Mission Lutheran Church.
The youth council, which was formed by Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez, devotes a bulk of its time to volunteer service and community enhancement projects.
Some of its more recent initiatives include organizing the city’s Movie in the Park series, and the Kumquat Festival 5K.
“The Dade City Youth Council gives us opportunities to create events that an individual teen, like me, wouldn’t be able to do by himself,” Figueroa explained. “Having some support from Camille and commissioners, and different sponsors, that helps a lot,” he added.
Members of the youth council also have a chance to gain insight into how the municipality interacts with the Florida Legislature and sometimes are able to travel to partake in meetings in Tallahassee.
Besides youth council, Figueroa is junior class president at Pasco High. He also plays in the East Pasco Soccer League.
After high school, Figueroa hopes to attend either Florida State University or Saint Leo University. He aspires to work in construction, architecture or engineering.
Whatever career path he follows, he’s adamant to stay involved in community affairs.
“It’s kind of tough because there’s so many things to do. I kind of want to have a career where I’m stable, but gives me the flexibility to volunteer in my community,” he explained.
Since living in Dade City, Figueroa said he’s noticed positive initiatives within in the community. He pointed to new sidewalks (the northern extension of the existing Hardy Trail) and repaved roads from Church Avenue to Lock Street as a few of the city’s upgrades. He’s also passionate about the number of groups that serve the community’s youth, mentioning the Boys & Girls Club and the now-reopened Moore-Mickens Education and Vocational Center.
Elsewhere, Figueroa is one of 12 recipients of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award.
The award honors youth who exhibit “vision, passion and dedication to improving the lives of families in their communities.”
He will be presented with the $5,000 award on Aug. 13, in Seattle, Washington.
Published August 9, 2017