Layla, 16, and Milo, 14, Lujan set two records this year. They are the first brother and sister to be nominated for Citizens of the Year, and they are the youngest recipients to ever be bestowed with the honor.
Each year, the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce and the Tehachapi News accept nominations for Citizen of the Year as well as the Large and Small Business of the Year awards. From these nominations come many, worthy suggestions; however, only three awards are announced each year.
"What can you say about these kids, recent winners of the 2020 A.R. Bernard Change Agent Award for philanthropy work with the free soup kitchen," wrote Marty Pay in his letter nominating the Lujans. "Both Layla and Milo worked there (Soup for the Soul) every Sunday, and this soup kitchen was featured on television and in newspapers."
After she found out she won the award along with her brother, Layla said, "We were very ecstatic and surprised."
When they started the soup kitchen in 2018, both brother and sister said they were hopeful that it would continue for years to come, but when COVID reared its ugly head, things became uncertain.
"We just really didn't know," Layla said. "We had to shut down for a little bit, but we were happy to open back up."
Added Milo, "What I told myself, is that what we are doing is NOW. If it continues, then that would be great, hoping that it would go on."
Both teens were asked about their biggest sacrifice spending every Sunday in the soup kitchen, and both of them said they didn't feel they were sacrificing anything.
A testament to their true generous and giving natures.
When Mano and Mei Mei Lujan learned about their children winning the award, both said they were overwhelmed, but in a good way.
"To me, they are citizens of the year every year," said their father, Mano. "This is fantastic, and in many ways they deserve it.
In addition to being very proud of her children, Mei Mei said she appreciates the support the community has showed her children.
When both of his children were born, Mano said, he most hoped for them to be happy and healthy.
"When I was growing up, I was an athlete.... I think it's common for parents to aspire for their children to be the same way as they were, but I did not," Mano said. "I couldn't care less if they played sports or were into sports.... They definitely think for themselves and make their own decisions."
Asked about the best qualities of his children, Mano said: "They both have these amazing hearts. They genuinely care not only about themselves, but for the people around them and their surroundings."
Their father went on to say that Layla has a lot of drive, and Milo has a wonderful imagination.
Their mother described Layla as very soulful and sweet, and Milo as having a very sweet heart.
Said Mei Mei, "She (Layla) always likes to help... Milo's teachers always say he is very gentle."
What's the best advice the teens have received?
"Don't be afraid to try new things and fail," Layla said. "And my parents telling me to don't give up and to always try my best."
Milo replied: "My dad told me to keep moving forward. I want my own kids to know that failing shouldn't always be looked at as a bad thing. You succeed when you strive to get what you want."
Other awards the teens have received include the American Legion Auxiliary's Good Deed Award and Commendation, the national Josiah's Kids Award, the national Bufford Harvest Change Agent Award and the Best Worthy Cause Award for Soup for the Soul as part of Tehachapi News' Best of Tehachapi.
Layla has been a Special Olympics volunteer for two years, and works with the local Salvation Army. Milo has gone to the national finals for the K-12 STEM program while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
Both teens have participated in the Tehachapi High School Robotics Club on the Designation Imagination team, and Milo and his team went to Tennessee to compete in the global finals. Layla also served as vice president in 2019.
Milo has participated in the Jacobson Middle School marching band as a percussionist and plays piano. Layla also plays the bass clarinet in the band.
Both children speak and understand Mandarin, and Layla is learning Spanish.
Layla has served as a caregiver for the elderly in the community, and has participated in Leaders for Life at both Tehachapi High School and Garces Memorial High School, where she also serves as a varsity cheerleader. She attended the U.S. Naval Academy Summer STEM last year in Annapolis, Md., and has applied again for this coming summer as well as to other STEM programs across the country.
Both teens also acknowledged Pay for his nomination of them, and "thank him profoundly."
"We are so excited to have the opportunity to recognize and honor Layla and Milo as Tehachapi’s Citizen’s of the Year 2021 for their contributions. Their generous and giving hearts are such a blessing to our community. I can’t wait to see where life takes them and am sure that someday I will say I knew them back when," said Ida Perkins, president of the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce.
Normally, an awards ceremony is held in February in recognition of each recipient. However, due to the pandemic, the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce has been forced to postpone this year's event, which is tentatively scheduled for May 15.
In the next edition of Tehachapi News, read about the Small Business of the Year for 2021, South Street Digital.