"I can't do anything with a ball," laughs Maria Victoria Howell-Arza.
But that may be just about the only thing she can't do.
Maria, known as "Marivi" to her family and friends, is 15 years old and is accomplished well beyond her years. Marivi is a "Renaissance woman" whose achievements as a scholar, athlete, performing artist and entrepreneur are extraordinary for a high school sophomore. Recently, Marivi discussed her busy lifestyle. She is a bundle of energy and passionate about the many aspects of her packed schedule.
Marivi is a sophomore at Buffalo Seminary and feels at home there.
"I love Sem," she says. "It's a great place to be. I've attended many schools and Sem has been the best by far. There are a lot of free-spirited people there who accept you for who you are."
This year, Marivi has taken on an especially challenging workload – she is enrolled in all honors classes and takes two advanced placement courses. Perfecting her studies does not stop Marivi from doing the other things that she is passionate about, and she still manages to earn straight As.
Marivi spends a lot of her out-of-school time practicing her singing, which is what she loves most of all. She takes voice lessons from Sebnem Mekinulov through the Cadenza workshop at Buffalo State College. Singing is Marivi's greatest passion and she imagines herself making a career as a performer. She also enjoys acting, and is a recent graduate of the Barbizon Modeling and Acting School.
Marivi also has an athletic side. At school, she is on the varsity fencing team.
"Fencing is kind of my thing," she said. "It's a graceful, mental game, a physical chess. It came naturally."
Fencing gives a sense of balance to her life, she added.
With this kind of talent, it is no wonder that Marivi has been successful in the world of pageants since getting involved at age 11. She believes that "pageants give you that extra edge in life."
This year, she was chosen as Miss New York Junior Teen at the National American Miss pageant.
As she worked her way through the rigors of the pageant, Marivi won the talent portion of the competition by singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" and won the acting portion with a humorous bilingual routine in English and Spanish. She was the first runner-up in the spokesmodel portion of the competition for a speech titled "The Logic of Dreams," which began and ended with this quote by Henry Ford: "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you are right."
She also was the first runner-up in the volunteer service category.
"I have done lots of community service over the years from helping at different organizations ... to taking time to help out around school, etc.," Marivi told NeXt in an email. "I use my title to find more opportunities to do more community service – with my block club where I am the sergeant at arms, the ENERGY Tutoring program at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and other organizations."
Participating in pageants has given Marivi a sense of self and poise as she grows up.
"Pageants have had a huge impact on me," she said. "They give you confidence, a drive, and are great for personal development."
She said she will utilize her new title by making a difference through community service.
As if all these accomplishments were not enough, Marivi distinguishes herself as an entrepreneur. She may well be one of the only teenagers ever to own a bed-and-breakfast.
"My family kind of stumbled into owning it," she said. "My Dad originally owned it, but suggested I take over to pay for things like voice lessons, pageants and SAT courses. Now we have someone here almost every day."
The B&B, which doesn't have a formal name, is located in the family's Buffalo home. "We have two guest bedrooms that ... we rent out," she said.
The website www.airbnb.com allows people to list rooms they have for rent.
Marivi's responsibilities include keeping track of bookings, handling customer service, making up and cleaning the rooms and preparing everything for guests' arrival.
"Owning my own B&B has taught me how to manage money and be responsible for more than just myself," she said. "We've had people stay here from all over the world. It's exciting to meet new people from different cultures."
So how does she do it all?
"I'm not sure myself," she said. "I just happen to find a way to make everything work. It is very stressful at times but it is all worth it."
It may be a little early to start thinking about her plans after high school, but Marivi said she "hopes to go to Yale to double major in premed and theater."
Everything she does, whether it is participating in pageants, fencing, studying, singing or even managing her B&B, she does it with full devotion. Stay tuned – there may be more to come.