National award shines light on Mission Bay High Cabrillo volunteer
Like the many independent, strong women she so admires, Sita Antel is forging her own path and putting her time and talents into the causes she believes in.
One of those causes is the Cabrillo National Monument, and the Mission Bay High School senior’s volunteer work in support of the park has earned her national recognition.
Antel, 17, of Pacific Beach, first started volunteering for the park when she young. According to her family, she has always been interested in history and historical fashion. A chance meeting at a Farmer’s Market with a couple dressed in vintage garb led to an invitation for her to visit the Cabrillo park.
“I came, I visited, I fell in love,” she said.
At 11 years old, she was given an outfit to wear and has been volunteering practically every Saturday since.
“She started by participating in our living history program,” said Amanda Gossard, a park ranger at Cabrillo for 13 years. “She would dress up in 19th Century clothes and give visitors to the Lighthouse a first person perspective on what it was like to live there as a young person in the 1800s.”
When August 2020 rolled around last year, it marked an important anniversary: the Centennial of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Cabrillo honored the anniversary by hosting four days of special events and outdoor exhibits.
Antel went above and beyond to see that the Park and its history were truly represented, Gossard said. She conducted research, used her artistic skills in various ways, and spent weeks helping prepare for the big event.
For her outstanding volunteer service, she was chosen as the 2020 Youth Service winner of the George and Helen Hartzog Awards, bestowed by the National Park Service. Winners are now being announced from the nominees chosen last year.
“The idea behind the awards is lovely,” Antel said. “Each year, nearly 300,000 volunteers across the National Park Service donate more than 6.5 million hours of volunteer service.”
The Hartzog Awards in various categories honor park volunteers’ hard work, while drawing attention to their skills and contributions. George B. Hartzog Jr., served as the director of the National Park Service and in 1970, created the Volunteers-In-Parks program.
Antel was unaware the awards even existed prior to being nominated by her friend and mentor Julieanne Fontana, a former ranger at the Monument. Fontana has since moved, but she wanted to ensure that all of Antel’s hard work did not go unnoticed.
Antel’s efforts toward the exhibits took her about a month and a half; she often put in four or five hours on weekends. She also volunteered at all the evening events.
With social distancing in full effect, the group had to be creative in order to bring their message to the masses in a COVID-19-safe manner, especially since the usual indoor spaces couldn’t be used.
Large plastic A-frames, normally used for park information, were turned into exhibit panels. Antel researched and typed all the information on women’s history for the panels. They were placed on the path leading up to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
“We used online tools to make the signs approachable,” she said. “We also had to follow National Park standards when designing them.”
The side of the Lighthouse was turned into a giant projector screen for a slideshow featuring prominent figures in the women and human rights movements. The Lighthouse was lit in gold and purple, the colors of the women’s suffrage movement.
“We hosted this at the Lighthouse because of Maria Israel,” Antel explained. “She was the first woman to receive equal work for equal pay; this was across the whole lighthouse system.”
Israel and her husband, Robert D. Israel, were the lighthouse keepers for 18 years.
The Woman’s Museum of California, which often works in partnership with Cabrillo staff, provided some large cardboard cutouts of important women in history, such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells among others.
When Antel realized that Israel didn’t have a cutout, she painted her portrait for the exhibit.
She also created a “picket garden” in front of the White House at Cabrillo. For this display, she made replicas of real protest signs held by suffragists during their original protests.
Even postcards were included.
“We wanted something the young women could take home and be inspired by, so we made postcards featuring some of the important women of history as souvenirs,” Antel said.
By week’s end, more than 2,000 people attended the event.
“Sita’s efforts stand out because of her unique passion, the amount of time and effort she put into helping to plan the event and the props she was able to procure and place on display,” Gossard said. “We are grateful for her ongoing contributions to the volunteer program at the park and extremely proud of her for being the recipient of this award.”
“I can’t imagine not having Cabrillo in my life,” Antel said. “It’s never been a job. It’s a beautiful place with a beautiful view, and I love getting other people passionate about it.”
After college, she’s considering a future in interpretation and education at a park service or private museum.
“I hope I made my community happy and shined the light on something so important here; my lighthouse and my state,” she said, while giving some added advice for other volunteers. “If you love San Diego, if you love biology or botany or history, reach out to your nearest park and do something for the community that you love.”