Encinitas student wins state Lions Club speech contest

Encinitas Advocate
Encinitas Advocate
Halle Schaffer speaking before the Encinitas Lions Club back in January. (Courtesy)

Halle Schaffer, a senior at San Dieguito High School Academy, recently won the California Lions Club Multi-District 4 Governors Scholarship Contest. Moving up through the levels starting with the local Encinitas Lions Club, Halle won a total of $20,000 in scholarship prize money, including $10,000 at the last state level.

“I’m still a little bit in shock because that is a lot of money,” Halle said. “It still hasn’t fully sunk in.”

Halle first became interested in speech as a sophomore, she is now the president of the speech and debate club at SDA. She entered the first round of the Lions speech contest back in January, not having really any expectations but she just kept winning and moving on to the next round. In total, she went through seven rounds, winning scholarship money at each level. She was able to give two speeches in person, however when the pandemic hit, the rest were delivered via video.

“I spent a week recording myself giving it every day and in the end chose the best one,” she said of her final round speech.

This year’s topic was not an easy one: “Homelessness in California, what is the solution?” In drafting her speech, Halle drew on her own experiences. Growing up she went to her father’s temple and volunteered in the soup kitchen—she was sympathetic to people who had fallen on hard times and lost their homes. With speech and debate tournaments at school she had covered topics of mental illness and California’s housing crisis and she was able to put all of the pieces together to craft a speech on a topic that she is very passionate about.

California’s homeless population is 150,000 people and Halle acknowledged that there is no one simple answer—she noted any impossible task can be made possible by addressing a set of smaller issues that can ultimately lead to a better solution.

She broke the homeless problem down into three issues—the housing crisis, mental illness and social stigma—and offered strategies for each.
Halle Schaffer gave her speech via video during the pandemic. (Courtesy)

“There is a less direct solution and it calls for a change in the mental health stigma in American society,” Halle said in her 10-minute speech. “In the U.S. just 43% of people who had a mental illness received help in 2016, with the National Alliance for Mental Illness concluding that those who didn’t either wanted to uphold their dignity or they didn’t believe that their mental illness was enough to warrant getting help. To truly solve this homeless problem we must first change the stigma around receiving aid.”

Her speech also addressed the stigma that is attached to the homeless population such as the misconceptions that many choose to sleep on the streets because they are lazy or not willing to find a job.

“These stigmas can have massive repercussions because homelessness becomes an attack of a person’s dignity rather than something that was completely out of their control,” Halle said.

As a result of the stigmas, Halle said the homeless are treated as second rate citizens and she said California should take initiative to educate people.

“By breaking down the prejudice that we hold against these people, it will not only educate citizens about the truth but it will also create sympathy, giving them the incentive to help whether that’s from advocating for government subsidies, creating a mental health support group in a homeless shelter or just sparing some extra change,” Halle said. “Debunking the criticisms we place upon these people will really help their livelihoods in the future.”

While it is still early in the admissions process, Halle has given some thought as to how she might put that scholarship money to use. She plans to apply to schools in California as well as possibly Washington D.C. and New York—she is interested in majoring in political science with an emphasis in pre-law, “My goal is to become a lawyer.”

In addition to leading the speech and debate club, Halle is also president of the Leos Club (the youth branch of Lions International), plays varsity tennis, is part of the theater department and is a member of the writers' club at school. This year with the Leos, she is planning ways that they can help the homeless population. Halle wants to focus particularly on fundraising for those who were impacted by COVID-19, people who lost their jobs and their housing because they had no way of paying rent. She said the Leos have been gaining members for this school year. “I’m really excited to get started.”

As Halle does not like being bored, during quarantine she also kept herself busy by self-publishing a book of short stories called “Pura Vida.”

“It’s been really good for me to find my creative outlets and explore passions I haven’t had time for before,” she said.

This story originally appeared in Encinitas Advocate .

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