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Tell us how life has changed since you left SPX. Life has changed a lot from the idyllic times of living in Houston and attending SPX. I now live on the beach in Costa Rica and all the things that I am most excited about now weren't really in my life during high school: running CREAR, surfing, my big black lab, coffee, the ocean, my support group of amazing friends here and my boyfriend.
What college(s) did you attend and what was your major? I attended Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and double majored in Spanish and psychology.
Tell us about CREAR. Why did you create this non-profit organization? CREAR is a non-profit dedicated to supplementary educational opportunities for local youth. We believe that education can change lives. We aim to improve the holistic education of Playa Samara via our free classes focused on art, English, girls empowerment, technology, among others; in addition to numerous community development initiatives.
There is a huge lack of resources in this region of Costa Rica in terms of education. Kids only receive an average of three hours of school a day, 100 days per year. Art, music and extra-curricular activities are not offered, and the high school graduation rate is at a staggering 13%; not to mention our adolescent pregnancy rate has swollen to 24%! There are some major social issues here, and CREAR is trying to combat them in order to provide educational equality for our youth. I was so fortunate to receive such a high-quality holistic education (from Pre-K all the way through college, and SPX played a huge role in this!), so I can really appreciate what good education can look like and what it can do for an individual. I want our youth to have these same opportunities.
What first interested you in non-profit work? I studied abroad for a year of college in Costa Rica and fell in love with the country.The natural beauty hooked me in, and I decided that I didn't want to wake up to smog and buildings, rather nature. Upon graduation from Austin College, I was resourcefully trying to find a way to make life in Costa Rica work and I knew that I needed to be involved in something stimulating; something that would "feed my soul" so to speak. Immersing myself in this community in a positive way and building real relationships with the youth and their parents and grandparents just sort of unraveled organically.
What is the best/most rewarding part of your job? It's the relationships I have built with these kids and this community. I have girls in my high school program that I have known since they were 8 and now they are almost 18. To have their trust to talk to me about important things in their life means the world to me. My job has made me feel like a real part of this community, even though I come from another country.
What advice would you give current SPX students who are interested in non-profit work and maybe even starting their own non-profit? Persevere and don't take things personally. Not everyone is going to love you just because you are doing
something positive. Not everyone is going to agree with what you do! Also, set your objectives from day one. Find CLEAR objectives and make sure that everything you do falls in line with them. Make sure all of your activities point back to your mission.
Who do you admire and why? It's very difficult to choose just one person! For now I am going to go ahead and say that I really admire my friend Maria Luisa. I met Maria while she was on the housekeeping staff at a school I worked for part-time a few years ago. I quickly learned that she is a person who has been through intense hardship in her life, and she is so incredibly self-sacrificing and hard-working. One day she told me that you have to do everything with your heart, put your heart into all that you do. She said, I may just be cleaning these windows right now, but I am doing it with my heart- and it really shows!
I took that lesson from her and applied it to my own life! You have to do things with commitment, dedication and heart! In Costa Rica the main saying of the country is pura vida which literally translates to "pure life" but what it really means is doing things with your heart and being kind and non-judgmental to all people - Maria Luisa embodies pura vida in big ways!
What is one of your favorite memories of SPX? I get tears in my eyes reflecting on the good times at SPX. My favorite memories center on Theatre SPX, Student Council and having fun with my dear friends Aaron Dodd, Alex Guzman and my high school sweetheart, Mark Vazquez. The memories of being in Mr. Galligan's classroom getting hair and makeup done before a show, late afternoon rehearsals, the high you would feel after the show, eating lunch in the Student Council classroom, and many more.
What is one of the most important lessons you took away from SPX? SPX taught me how to work hard and put in long days at an early age. I learned a lot about dedication and commitment.
What were you involved in as a student at SPX? Student Council, Theatre SPX, NHS, and I ran track and cross country.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work? My favorite thing in the world is to surf. I also like to be on the beach with my dog, drink wine and good coffee and spend quality time with people I care about.
How did your SPX education prepare you for college and your eventual career? Excellent classes and teachers that gave us lots of homework (not busy work) that taught us good work ethic. Student Council aided in teaching me work ethic and organizational skills that have aided me greatly in running a non-profit. The long hours we put in with Theatre SPX taught me dedication and the importance of teamwork, not to mention how to be creative with little resources (key in running a non-profit in a rural community of Latin America!)
What advice would you share with new SPX graduates? Focusing on the future is really good, but take time to enjoy the present moment. Bask in the accomplishments you have already realized, and above all, don't chase paper, seek happiness first and the money will follow!
What does it mean to you to be an SPX Alumni? I have so much pride in the fact that I went to SPX. That place meant the absolute world to me!
Which SPX teacher made the most lasting impact on you? Mr. Burgin, I loved that guy. He had such interesting classes and was a real role model for us kids. Mr. Donaruma taught me one class in high school, freshman English, and I still remember it very clearly. He advocated for me and a few fellow students a number of years later, and I'll never forget that. Mrs. McCreary taught me Spanish and laid a foundation that I have taken into my adult life. Mr. Galligan was our talented director at Theatre SPX and stimulated our creativity. Mr. Jurick was one of the kindest teachers and I loved his theology classes. Not to mention Mrs. Kramer and Mrs. Cusimano, they taught me how to write! I can't choose just one, that wouldn't be fair.
In terms of who made the most lasting impact, it would have to be Mr. Calais. The long hours he put in to making our Student Council effective were truly admirable. I would like to think that I model my dedication to CREAR after his dedication to SPX and StuCo. He was an incredibly engaging teacher and a true mentor and friend to all of us kids. While he worked at SPX, his blood ran orange! That kind of enthusiasm and tenacity are contagious; I can only hope I am half as committed to my program!
For more information about Andrea's non-profit, CREAR please visit her website.