Elkhart High School freshman Toni JoeAnn Vasquez is beginning what she hopes to be a wonderful journey in her life.

Vasquez was chosen as an ambassador to Australia through People to People, an organization founded by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1963. She is expected to leave for her trip in late June or early July.

As part of her 20 day-stay down under, Vasquez will experience different aspects of the Australian culture by participating in what the People to People organization calls “stays.”

Vasquez will visit an Australian sheep station, a dolphin research facility and during the tribal stay, she will spend two days with a native aborigine tribe.

“I am really happy about being chosen,” Vasquez said. “I have always wanted to go to Australia and this is my chance.”

To be accepted as a People to People ambassador, students must undergo an extensive process.

They are chosen based on academic performance, teacher nomination or by a former ambassador. Once chosen, the student must complete an application and be interviewed by a panel from People to People.

Once accepted, the student must meet once a month with the local People to People group and complete a project on the country where they will be traveling.

Vasquez also must raise her own funds for the trip — about $6,000 — and already has raised some of that through local fund-raisers and sponsorships.

“I am excited about her going to see new places and meet new people,” said Vasquez’ mother Saundra Vasquez. “I think she will develop friendships there that will last the rest of her life.

“As an ambassador, I hope that my daughter will become part of the generation that sees that people need to stop fighting and work out their problems peacefully.”

The Elkhart student’s favorite subject is art. She also enjoys decorating for school pep rallies, caring for the animals on her farm and talking on the phone.

Vasquez is the daughter of Isaac F. and Saundra Vasquez. Her father works for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and her mother is a barber at Warren’s Barber Shop.

Donations to help fund her trip to Australia may be mailed to Toni Vasquez, 240 Private Road 6107, Palestine, Texas 75801. For more information about Vasquez’ trip or about People to People, call 903-764-5741.

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Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at mrainwater@palestineherald.com.

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