Youth Spotlight: Flor Vasquez’s walk to water
Flor Vasquez, a freshman at Colorado Mountain College, credits temporarily leaving her close-knit friend group behind for a couple years during her second half of high school for changing her life. Prior to that moment, her best friends were her main focus. “When I made that decision to take a break from my friends, my priorities changed, and I was able to mature,” Vasquez said. She had a thirst for change.
Doors began to open for Vasquez that would lead to improved grades, a leadership role with TEDxYouth, award-winning projects with Future Business Leaders of America and international service work with Children’s Global Alliance. Equipped with newly found confidence and clarity, Vasquez was poised to gift herself a healthy dose of self-esteem that had been missing from her life. Turns out that giving back to others gave much to Vasquez. Next stop … Nicaragua.
“I was able to relate to the children and families we served in Nicaragua because they reminded me of my own family,” said Vasquez, who is a first-generation daughter of immigrant Honduran parents and extremely close with her family. “Nicaraguans have the same struggles as Hondurans. I also had an advantage of knowing how to speak Spanish and connected with those we were there to help. It felt good to turn off my smartphone all week and focus on the good we were there to accomplish.”
She was unable to use her Spanish during her second CGA service trip to Tanzania the following year. “Swahili is really hard to learn,” Vasquez said with a huge smile. That did not stop her from positively impacting underprivileged children through teaching English and Social Studies. Her natural gift of giving back has had an impact in our community as well.
The list of her local volunteer efforts are robust: Salvation Army, town of Vail Police Explorers, TEDxYouth and Trinity Church Youth Services. As a board member with the Vail Valley Partnership’s CareerWise, Vasquez landed a coveted apprenticeship with local nonprofit Can Do MS where she is in her second year of a three-year commitment assisting their Development department.
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“As a part of the first cohort of apprentices from Eagle County, Flor is not only succeeding in her apprenticeship but has also become a model for other businesses, her peers and the program itself,” said Erik Williams, the director of community development for the Vail Valley Partnership who leads CareerWise in Eagle County. “Flor has, and continues to, work with us to make this program the best it can be. CareerWise in Eagle County would not be where it is today without Flor’s bravery and leadership.”
Vasquez reflects on the catalyst for getting her to this point in her life — a point where she feels really good about what she is doing, who she spends time with, and where she is going in life. She contends that Children’s Global Alliance provided her with life-changing experiences she will never forget. “In a Maasai Tribe, the women get up at 4 a.m. to walk an eight-hour round-trip journey so they can have water. They haul the water back to their village on their heads.” Seeing this monumental daily task first-hand helped Vasquez appreciate her life.
With a 1.5 GPA her sophomore year and an immature friend group, she knew she needed to do something drastic to survive and succeed, like carry some water for eight hours or longer. Positive choices led to earning a 3.8 her final semester of high school and a new worldview that gave her so much confidence.
It should come as no surprise that she reconnected with her best friend, who now volunteers with her at Trinity Church. Vasquez has also reconnected with her friend group, who she believes has also matured. As Vasquez reflects on that time-period without her best friends by her side, she said, “I think it is important for teenagers to acknowledge that being independent and doing things for ourselves is not a bad thing. We are going through a stage that will help us reach adulthood, and we want to experience things for ourselves. We are barely figuring out who we are trying to be. Do not be afraid to challenge yourself and make a few adjustments in your life that will be effective in the long-run. It is never too late to do something good for yourself, the community, and the people around you.”
Vasquez’s thirst for change led her to have more meaning in her life and for that alone, she is a true youth leader who others can emulate. On that note, Mountain Youth recently offered Vasquez a part-time position as Communities that Care Youth advisor, where she will have a platform in leading local youth to work on community projects. Thankfully, Vasquez accepted the offer and I am proud to call her my coworker.
Carol Johnson is the community education manager for Mountain Youth. For more on the mission of Mountain Youth, go to https://www.mountainyouth.org/.