Work in Cameron Park Recognized with Sargent Shriver Award
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – NOV.
18, 2013 – Miriam Aguayo and Karina
Mendieta, both seniors at The University of Texas at Brownsville, share a bond
to improve the lives of residents of Cameron Park, a colonia of Brownsville.
They were among 14 students
nationwide who received the second annual Sargent
Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award from the Margaret
Casey Foundation; each received a check for $5,000.
“Kari and I both saw a community need, and we had solutions
in mind, knowing how we would spend the $5,000, if one or both of us were to
win,” Aguayo said. “What a surprise it was for both of us to receive the award,
and to have us working in the same colonia,
and being the only ones from Texas. It was an exciting day when we were
notified, and it was exciting to go to Seattle, such a beautiful city, for the
Miriam Aguayo, front, and Karina Mendieta are two of 14 winners nationwide of the Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty Leadership Award from the Margaret Casey Foundation.
Aguayo, a history major scheduled to graduate in December, focused
her winning project on voter registration and participation in Cameron Park.
Mendieta, majoring in early childhood through sixth grade bilingual education
and scheduled to graduate in December, tackled the regional health issue of obesity
and diabetes that is widespread in low-income, low-education communities such
as Cameron Park.
grown up with her family in Cameron Park, Mendieta began to notice children’s
obesity as a serious health issue when she started organizing children’s
activities at the neighborhood’s community outreach center, Proyecto Juan
Diego, a non-profit organization that provides education, social, and
health services to the residents of Cameron Park and surrounding colonias.
“The teens in the youth group I work with decided we wanted to do
something about the issue of obesity that is so prevalent in the community,”
Mendieta said. “We came up with a ‘Stop the Cycle of Obesity’ event to help
7-12 year-old children learn about obesity, its detrimental effects and ways to
avoid getting caught up in the cycle of unhealthy living that it creates.”
proposal to the Casey Foundation was to use the funding to expand the “Stop the
Cycle of Obesity” program that had already gotten off to a good start.
with having guest speakers to discuss obesity, nutrition and exercise,” she
said. “The kids loved the Zumba instructor that we brought in to give them some
lessons; now they see exercising can be fun and doesn’t have to be
Aguayo, a youth coordinator with Proyecto Juan Diego, proposed
to use her award funds to increase voter participation.
“My project was already well on its way, pushing to get
people out to vote in the November elections,” she said. “I felt if we could
continue in a serious manner, we could realistically hope to increase the Cameron
Park voter turnout.”
With her award funds, Aguayo coordinated the youth-led
campaign, comprised of 24 youth volunteers, ages 12-20, and 12 of their
siblings and parents. They group visited door-to-door throughout the neighborhood,
handing out flyers to promote voter participation. They organized a Celebrate
your Vote Celebration that took place on Oct. 26, the Saturday of early voting.
“The initiative was to celebrate during early elections as a
way to commemorate the right and the privilege to vote,” Aguayo said. “We
provided information on the issues on the ballot, and also we made sure
everyone needing transportation got a ride to the polls in a van provided by
our County Commissioner, Ernie Hernandez. Cameron Park’s turn-out rate during
the election comprised 77 percent of Precinct 74’s vote; amazingly, it
comprised 78 percent of the early election vote. Precinct 74’s turnout rate
during early elections resulted in the highest number of early election precinct
Neither Aguayo nor Mendieta is new to volunteerism and
Throughout her college career, Aguayo has sought
opportunities to work with immigration and social issues and the legal
profession. She interned at the Southern District of Texas Federal Court and at
the Law Office of Annabell Alegria in Brownsville. For the fall 2012 semester, Aguayo
was one of 33 students from the University of Texas System selected for the
Archer Fellowship Program, giving her the opportunity to study at the Archer
Center in Washington, D.C. and intern with Immigration Equality, a non-profit
organization that represents the LGBT and HIV-positive immigrant community in
the federal sector.
As she finishes her last courses in preparation for a
December graduation, Aguayo is studying for the law school entrance exam; her goal
is to work in a field that helps improve immigration policies.
Mendieta has spent the semester as a student teacher at
Southmost Elementary School. As a resident of Cameron Park, Mendieta has seen
improvements take place in the neighborhood, yet knows of the work still to be
done. She has been a steady volunteer at Proyecto Juan Diego for more than six
years, aiding in the fields of immigration, health, education and government.
Over the years, Mendieta has faithfully visited nursing
homes and resident centers for immigrant children; collected food, clothing,
shoes and supplies to distribute to destitute families across the border in
Mexico; participated in an ongoing youth-led project focused on cleaning up and
beautifying Cameron Park; and marched in support of immigration reform and
against domestic violence.
“Maybe our stories will help encourage other students to do
something positive in their schools and communities,” Mendieta said. “We can
all be Warriors Against Poverty.”