Recently the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce had its annual awards banquet where they recognize people for categories such as Citizen of the Year, Young Professional of the Year, Organization of the Year, Public Service Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, Junior Achievement Award and Business of the Year.
This year I not only got to go to support close friends of mine who were nominated for Young Professional of the Year but I also got to go as a Soroptimist member since we were nominated for Organization of the Year alongside Family Support Network and Sierra 4-H, both highly deserving organizations and the Sierra 4-H took the win which was 100 percent deserving.
Three people were nominated for Young Professional of the Year that included Will Jones, Austin Romito and Kayleigh Gilbert, all three close friends of mine. All three work so hard in their own way to support Oakdale and embrace it and the community within with open arms. The hard-working Will Jones took the award this year and everyone couldn’t be more proud.
What I especially loved about this year’s event is the fact that each winner, for every single category, got a standing ovation as they collected their award. Every person was praised and made to feel very special. That is my favorite thing about this community.
The rest of the event went very smoothly and at the end they announced the new Oakdale Chamber CEO, Cher Bairos. I know that the chamber has been working on filling that position and it was cool that they decided to end the night with that reveal, I am excited to see what Cher has planned for the chamber.
After the event I got to go out with some friends that also attended the event and that was probably something I will always remember.
A lot of times people will see me and my best friend Kayleigh Gilbert out and about shopping or catching lunch somewhere and say, “Oh I didn’t know that you two were friends! I know you go to community events together but didn’t know you guys were actually friends outside of events and Soroptimist.” There are a lot of the young professionals in Oakdale that were friends before they even decided to put their foot into the community. Most knew each other in high school or before and continued to stay friends after.
I met Kayleigh when I was a freshman and she was a senior at OHS, we were in choir together and only briefly saw each other during rehearsals and concerts but never spoke or hung out. Then when I started working for The Leader I went on an assignment, one of my first couple ones, and I saw her there and she came up to me and we both remembered each other. Since December of 2021, we have become best friends.
I met Austin when he was taking photos of the mural that was being painted on South Third Avenue next to the old newspaper office, Kayleigh introduced me to him and ever since that first introduction I began to see him everywhere. Every event I went to, he was there, and we would always talk to each other and make small talk while we captured events. Soon it became a cool friendship, and he always helped me through my little anxieties when it came to walking into a huge event and not knowing anyone. Now he is one of my best friends as well.
Then Will, I also met through both Kayleigh and Austin, actually really recently became a good friend of mine; he is always the type to stop and say hi followed by a smile and a wave.
It was an honor to witness all three of my friends be nominated for the same category and also have a blast at yet another event surrounded by amazing citizens of Oakdale.
Sarah Lawson is a former staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Escalon Times and The Riverbank News; she continues to contribute a regular column.