By Raiza Giorgi

Mercedes Diaz has been going to and participating in Santa Ynez Valley Youth Recreation activities since she was a small child. She loved helping whoever was the Queen for that year, from arranging flowers, helping sell raffle tickets and any other job that needed doing.

 “I love getting to see how everything is done and so many people giving their time and money to gets projects accomplished that benefit our area,” Mercedes said. “I have probably used everything that Youth Rec has either helped build or donated to.” 

And now, Diaz herself has been named the 2020 Youth Rec Queen. The 16-year-old from Buellton is the daughter of Oscar and Allison (Brown) Diaz. Her parents both grew up in the valley and they are high school sweethearts. 

Youth Rec Queen Mercedes has grown up with a love for volunteering, shown here handing out ice cream cones during a local senior center dinner.

This year will be unique as the COVID-19 situation has put a halt to fundraising this year, according to Frank Kelsey, Youth Rec executive director. 

“We are so disappointed to put this on hold, but with this situation we don’t want to ask anyone of our major donors or sponsors for money or donations,” Kelsey said. “They will be struggling to get through this as we all are. We want to take this year to recover and go strong next year.”

He added that he was reluctant to put the campaign on hold, but was overjoyed to know that Mercedes was willing to put her reign on pause as well.

“Mercedes is such a great kid and she has been a great trooper through all of this,” Kelsey said. 

SYV Youth Rec has raised more than $3 million in the past 62 years for local youth programs and facilities and has funded many projects at Santa Ynez High School, fields at local elementary and middle schools, and the volleyball, baseball and soccer fields at Sunny Fields Park, among other accomplishments.

Even since Mercedes parents were kids they knew how much Youth Rec (at that time they were part of the Elks Rodeo) did for the community. 

“Oscar and I both played soccer as kids and my family have been longtime supporters of the Elks and Youth Rec,” Allison Diaz said. 

2020 Youth Rec Queen Mercedes Diaz loves photography and got some great tips from local professional Mike Mesikep during her photo shoot.

Diaz said after high school her husband entered the U.S. Army and they were stationed overseas in Germany, when she was pregnant with Mercedes. She decided to come home while Oscar was deployed to Iraq. When Mercedes was three, Oscar got a job at Vandenberg Air Force Base and they have lived in the valley ever since. Diaz said she helps her father’s business. 

Mercedes has grown up playing many sports and now in high school she plays soccer, softball, tennis and basketball. Up until the school closure, Mercedes was on the softball team. 

Already thinking of the future, Mercedes said she has found a love of photography and art. She loves drawing and multimedia, and is proud of her family members that have served. Mercedes says she wants to go into the military and use her multimedia skills in some capacity. 

Youth Rec continues to sponsor youth basketball and summer swim programs, support Arts Outreach youth programs, and maintain the support of local youth teams and tournaments in the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos. Kelsey said that they have a bit of a buffer that will help them get projects done and funded this year. 

“We just want to give people a break from donating to one more cause while I am sure it will take time to recover,” Kelsey said. 

For more information on SYV Youth Rec, log onto for more information about attending future events or donating to Mercedes’ campaign.