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Commentary: SOY director put me on the path to future

December 29, 2012|By Elizabeth Moreno

In the 10th grade, after school and cross country practice, I would walk two miles past my home, the neighborhood market and my best friend's house.

My destination was a center called Save Our Youth in Costa Mesa. This center was a break from my busy home. My home was always too crowded, and I didn't have a place to focus and do my homework. Even though I would come home after dinner, my mother understood and would serve me dinner after she had served dinner to my six siblings and my father. My mother knew the time spent at SOY was beneficial and that it provided me with a place and space that she and my father could not.

Concerned parents in the community, afraid that their youth could get involved in rising gang violence, founded the center in 1999. Now, it serves as a place where at-risk teenagers can receive help on homework and participate in alternative recreational activities.

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One day I noticed that something had changed at the center. A new executive director stepped in to take over the nonprofit. I remember it like it was yesterday; I was doing my homework when he came up and introduced himself.

In a community where the majority is Hispanic and Latino, I was stunned that this guy was blond and blue-eyed. As I walked the two miles home, I thought, "Why would a non-Hispanic want to run a center like SOY?" Could he relate to our culture? Does he know that we have posadas for the community during Christmas? As I processed this person's decision and desire to work at the center, I didn't realize that this new director would change my entire life.

That summer he took the position and asked me if I wanted to be part of a group of nine other girls to climb Mt. Whitney. He would lead the group and said it would be a good opportunity to get out of the smoggy city and my crowded home. I accepted his offer.

This was the first time in my life that I backpacked and camped. I was only 15 years old when I conquered the tallest mountain, 14,505 feet, in the continental United States. Climbing Mt. Whitney opened a new world that I didn't know existed.

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