Women Who Shine winner Mariah VitoriaMariah Vitoria says there are more cows than people in her tiny town of Hillmark, which is nestled in California's agricultural Central Valley. "Everyone is very close, I love the town and people are generous," she tells Shine. "Everyone comes together during hard times." She plans on saving the money she won, and one day purchasing a home close to her parents. Her mom cleans the local post office, and her dad drives a truck for one of the many dairies that dot the region.
Vitoria, 19, got started volunteering though her church and then her high school service group. Now a college freshman at California State University Stanislaus, she racked up hundreds of hours of service before she graduated last June. She's currently studying business and working in the dean's office, and hopes to eventually start her own charity to fight hunger in America. One of her cherished annual traditions is serving hot meals at the Salvation Army on Christmas morning.
Despite her youth, Vitoria already has experience launching her own projects to help others in need. Captain of her high school basketball team, when one of her teammates was tragically killed in a gunshot accident, she raised money to help the family cover the funeral costs. It's one of her proudest moments. "We hosted a three-day fundraiser and raised 14 thousand dollars," she says. "We had 12 tables covered with baked goods and sold every last crumb. People were coming up and handing us 100-dollar bills. It was unbelievable."
Vitoria attributes much of her drive to playing basketball and soccer. "Being in team sports really taught me how to be an effective leader," she says. "It inspired me to work extremely hard at everything I do."
Her idol is football star Tim Tebow. "I admire that he's a super compassionate person and sincerely cares about others," she says. "He's humble and he doesn't seem to care what the public says about him."
Vitoria says her win came as a complete surprise. "When I received the e-mail, I sat on the couch frozen." When asked who nominated her for Women Who Shine, she pauses, "I'm really not sure," and then adds, "but I could probably find out!" We assure her that won't be necessary. Sounds like something her hero Tebow might say.