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Velasquez top talker in Rotary Speech contest
Rotary Club of Effingham County President Julie Dickey (left) presents Rotary Speech Contest winner Becca Velasquez the first-place check Thursday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — Becca Velasquez uses more than her mouth when she talks. Each of her words is supported by expressive eyes, hand gestures and voice inflections.
An Effingham County High School senior, Velasquez also employs her heart when she attempts to engage her listeners — especially Rotary Speech Contest judges. She won this year’s contest, a joint venture between Rotary Club of Effingham County and Effingham Sunrise Rotary, at Ebenezer Retreat Center on Thursday.
“Personally, I think it’s a gift straight from God,” Velasquez said. “I can think of points in my head, make a speech in my head and then deliver it. My dad is a pastor and that’s how he does things. He just talks from the heart, and I think that’s really important.
“You can prepare all you want but if you don’t speak from the heart they are definitely going to see right through it.”
Velasquez, who won $200 for her address about helping others, was one of five formidable local high school students who battled for one of four spots in the Rotary “zone” speech contest in Statesboro. Their speeches were based on the theme: “Rotary: Making a Difference.”
Two-time defending local Rotary Speech Contest champion Darius Scott, a South Effingham senior, finished second and earned $150. He spoke about empowering women and girls around the world.
The field was rounded out by Katie Marchese (third place, $100), Olivia Brower (fourth place, $50) and Rafael Osella (fifth place, $25). Marchese and Osella, both Effingham County juniors, focused on the importance of making a difference for others. Brower, a South Effingham junior, discussed the terrible global toll of human trafficking.
“... We have some fantastic children in our school system,” said Rotarian Yancey Ford, assistant superintendent of Effingham County schools. “... All of you did a wonderful job today.”
Velasquez isn’t sure about how she will use her talent for talking in the future. She is interested in possibly becoming a teacher in Brooklyn or a communications specialist for a nonprofit organization.