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Sixth-grader full of mayoral hope
Students essay chosen from among 495 others
Essay winner Hania Rios, center, is surrounded by, from left, her sister, Paula Rios-Purcell, her parents, Antonio Rios and Cynthia Purcell, speaker Charlie Wurst from the Georgia 4-H, Gainesville Middle School teacher Haynes Kaufman and Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd, Georgia Municipal Association 1st vice president. - photo by For The Times

Running for mayor could be a possibility for 12-year-old Hania Rios, but she has plans to become an interior designer.

Still, the sixth-grader at Gainesville Middle School has her ideas about what would make Gainesville a better place for humans, animals and the earth alike.

"If I were mayor, I would do many things that would make Gainesville a better place," begins an essay that won Rios a $250 savings bond.

The essay continues with Rios’ philanthropic plans to expand the Humane Society, build more sidewalks and beautify the city with flowers.

Rios’ essay was one of 12 essays that won the Georgia Municipal Association’s statewide "If I Were Mayor..." essay contest. Hers was chosen from 496 essays that were written by sixth- graders in the northeastern part of the state, said Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the GMA.

If the sixth-grade student was mayor, the first thing she would do is make animal shelters bigger and make conditions better for the dogs and cats who have to stay there, incorporating on-site veterinarians and walking areas for the animals to exercise in every rescue shelter.

"We should modify today’s humane societies and make them a healthier place for animals to live," Rios wrote.

Rios, who has volunteered at the Humane Society with friends, said she gets sad when she sees sick animals in crowded shelters.

"I love animals a lot... it was definitely one of the first things I thought of to put in my essay," said Rios.

Rios would make more areas for humans to walk, too.

"If we had sidewalks on every street, more people would exercise because it would be safer than walking on the streets," wrote Rios.

After watching other people riding their bikes in the middle of the road and being forced to exercise in the streets, Rios said it was important for city’s to build sidewalks for their residents.

"I have to run on the streets when I go exercising, and it would be nice to have a sidewalk," said Rios.

But Rios also wants to make Gainesville a better place for the earth below, writing that if she were mayor, she would clean up the city’s litter and plant more flowers around the city.

A clean city would appeal to visitors and make it a better place to live for residents.

"I think it’s important for (a city) to be pretty and appealing," Rios said. "I care about the environment a lot, so I think it would be good to have flowers and stuff."

Her ideas to not only look out for human residents "but everybody in the community" were what scored Rios a spot at the winners luncheon the GMA sponsored Tuesday afternoon, Henderson said.

"I thought it was a very special honor, and I was very excited to receive it," said Rios, who spent Tuesday afternoon having lunch at Turner Field with the other 11 contest winners.

The "If I Were Mayor..." essay contest, in its ninth year, is an effort by the municipal association to educate young people about the impact of local governments on people’s every day lives.

"There’s a lot of us who quite frankly don’t know what it is that city (governments) do," Henderson said. The contest is "a way to start the education process about what services cities provide."

Essays are chosen based on writing style and the contestant’s approach to improving his or her city if he or she were mayor is realistic.

The contest is also a chance for city officials from across the state — who serve as judges in the competition — to learn what issues are important to the young people in their communities.

"It is also a chance for our mayors and council members to hear from these youth about what it is they do and don’t like about their community," Henderson said.

"My favorite is, during election years, you see the judges making notes," Henderson added with a laugh.