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A young Latino male in a gray hoodie plants a shrub in front of a fence

Growing up, I was lazy and never wanted to do anything I didn’t have to do. I didn’t like doing the things I had to do either, but I found ways to make it easier to get it done. When I didn’t feel like doing something anymore, or it got too hard, I’d just stop. I kept to myself - never opening up to anyone, and started to feel like something was missing.

Navigating Change

A teenaged Latino male in a blue jacket builds a strawberry tower in a greenhouse

I’ve been through a lot of changes in my life. We used to live in Indiana, and when I was in 2nd grade, my family moved to Chattanooga. I am the youngest of four. I have always been my mom’s baby, but when I was thirteen, my dad died. Suddenly, I had to start helping to take care of my family alongside my brother. This was a really big shift. I was still a kid and didn’t want that responsibility, but I was forced to step up after everything that happened. I had to start working.

I heard about LMC from my cousin, Jostin, who would constantly come home tired and dirty. He was working hard at something and felt good about it, and I think a small part of me was jealous of that. It seemed like a good way to make money, and I wanted to prove I could do it too, so I applied for The Howard School Leadership Program.

The Value of Teamwork

It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I didn’t like being in nature, and leadership paired us off into groups a lot. When I joined the program, I was closed off and didn’t like talking to people, but I was forced to. Slowly, working with the other interns, I came out of my shell. We started bonding over shared struggles and victories. It was like finding a crew I never knew I needed. They pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to grow. I started opening up, letting my guard down. Turns out, I wasn't as alone as I thought.

The biggest challenge I faced was the granite bench project. It was blazing hot the first day we installed one of those benches, and all of us were irritable and stressed. The granite weighed hundreds of pounds, and the ground wasn’t leveling right. We had to keep going in to adjust the ground, but to do that, we had to lift the slabs, over and over again. It was all hands on deck, and we just ground it out together. After it was over, we all felt closer, or at least more understanding of each other. I know I did.

Two young Hispanic males sit contemplatively on a granite park bench

One thing that clicked for me during those projects was understanding people's strengths and weaknesses. I always felt like I couldn’t rely on others, but by working with the other interns, that started to change. Everyone had something they were good at, and I realized we all needed each other to finish big projects. I had to learn how to trust my team, rely on their strengths, and let them cover my weaknesses while doing the same for them. 

As we worked together, I got close with some of the other interns, making some real friends. I started feeling a sense of belonging I hadn't felt before. Being able to open up to them, lead projects, speak up, and know I’d be heard was weird and great at the same time.

Becoming Someone to Rely On

Then one day, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was changing. I wasn’t avoiding the hard work anymore, I was embracing it. People around me noticed, and people refer to me as a hard worker who leads by example. I was stepping up more and more, even though I never thought I had it in me. 

The biggest part of this realization translated into other aspects of my life. My cousin was signing up for basic training in the army, and I wanted to go too. You have to pass this big test. I ended up backing out three times. Needless to say, it was hard, and when things got too rough I’d quit. Being with LMC taught me that I can push through stuff, though, even if I have to rely on others to do it. In this case, It took my mom doubting me to get me past the tipping point. I finally stuck with it. 

Three teenage males in hoodies plant seeds in a greenhouse

At basic, there was a final test we had to get through; a 10-mile run. It was the last run of training. There were some people in front and some in the back, and we had to take turns carrying a bazooka. I was starting to give up, but then I remembered everything I’d done with LMC, my mom doubting me, and all my friends rooting for me. I chose to keep going. I thought, "If they can do it, I can do it." Then I realized there was a guy behind me struggling to finish his turn with the bazooka. I didn’t think twice and just carried the bazooka for him, and I ended up carrying it the whole time. 

That experience taught me that by learning how to rely on others, others can rely on me. I realized I liked being the person people can count on, the person people listen to if I ask them to keep doing something. I ended up getting honors in boot camp - me, the guy who used to feel like he couldn't do anything right. It was a wake-up call, a realization that maybe I wasn't as pathetic as I thought. I’m a hard worker now, the opposite of lazy. And I owe a lot of that to LMC, to the support and opportunities I’ve had here. It's like they saw something in me that I didn't even see in myself.

A Bright Future

Now, as I'm about to graduate high school, the future seems a lot brighter than it did four years ago. This summer I’m going back to boot camp, and after that, I'm going to go to Chatt State for trade school so that I can get a job in welding. This internship taught me things about myself I never knew, and taught me the value of hard work and relying on others. By opening up and learning to work hard, I realized that I’m not pathetic and I can lead others well. My experience and growth have allowed me to see both sides of leading and being led, and now I’m not afraid to speak up and know that people will listen to me. 


Portrait of a young Latino male with curly black hair in front of a forested background