Youth Spotlight: Elsa Morales and Grecia Mena
Compassion. Humility. Positivity. These characteristics sum up my experiences with two incredible young women leading powerful opportunities for local youth. Elsa Morales, Battle Mountain High School senior, and Grecia Mena, Eagle Valley High School senior, have joined forces as leads in a Tu Guia tutoring and mentorship program in the community.
Conceived during the early phase of at-home learning during the pandemic, Grecia and her peers recognized the academic struggles many families were facing in supporting their children’s learning. These young leaders conceptualized a program where older peers- high school and college-aged would be paired with families of elementary and middle school students to provide support with academics.
Before long, other needs emerged beyond just academic learning and the tutors embraced training on communication, time management, conflict resolution and a multitude of other behavioral and life skills.
Unlike many other tutoring and mentorship programs, family engagement is a priority with built-in parental supports. Fast forward and, while fortunately students have been back on school campuses for some time, Tu Guia continues to grow and support local families. “It is obvious that school and learning are very important to Elsa and Grecia. They both recently transitioned into Tu Guia Lead roles with Mountain Youth and are truly an inspiration. Elsa and Grecia are excited to dive into the program, explore new opportunities, and ensure that each student’s individual needs are met,” shares Denise Kipp, Director of Education at Mountain Youth. As Leads, these women get to build connections with other tutors, offer guidance on academic and social support, offer fun and educational trainings and connect tutors and families with resources.
While Grecia and Elsa share a passion for serving children and families, they have traveled unique paths. Grecia was born and raised in the Valley and loves helping others, especially the Hispanic community. Grecia’s inspiration stems from her parents who have inspired her by continuously giving back to family, friends, and colleagues. Grecia also keeps her community and opportunities in perspective. “I have seen kids at the border in Mexico, asking for money for education and basic needs. It gives me strength to be able to help with my community so that local families can have free education and social-emotional supports,” Grecia explains. A hard worker with a heart for giving back, it is no surprise that Grecia is interested in pursuing nursing. Grecia is a constant beacon of positivity and believes that one smile can change someone’s day. Her advice for others is to get out of your comfort zone, surround yourself by positive influences, and remember that other people’s behaviors, how they act towards you, or view you, most likely has nothing to do with you.
Elsa learned about Mountain Youth through a school counselor while she was interning at Berry Creek Middle School diving into a possible educator pathway. Tu Guia offered Elsa a chance to help students learn outside of the classroom and has encouraged her to shift gears and work towards becoming a school-based therapist. “Middle school was incredibly hard for me socially and I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could talk to, until a few teachers I trusted helped me improve my mindset,” Elsa explains. “There are not many Latina therapists and therapy is so stigmatized in our culture. We are urged to have a tough mindset, to deal with challenges on our own, and to “get over it”, and I don’t want other children to feel like I did,” she shares.
Battle Mountain High School teacher Alex Peltier shares that "Elsa is a student that makes every learning environment better. Her sense of humor and thoughtful perspective bring such positive energy to the classroom that you can't help but have a better day. On top of that, her resilience and honesty have helped establish her as someone that others look up to and respect." Elsa has worked hard to get involved and her resume is impressive with participation in Student Council, National Honors Society, Link Crew, AVID, Hispanic Mentors, and she is also on track to earn her Seal of Biliteracy. Her grit and perseverance are incredible, and she holds a special place for her Tu Guia work. A highlight was being matched with her first students, two siblings and their family members. They made connections through basketball, social drama, goal setting, and academic progress.
As Kipp sums up, “Grecia and Elsa are a gift to the community and to Tu Guia, and we feel very fortunate to work beside them.” Who said that a devil and a huskie cannot play nice in the sandbox!?
Written by Michelle Stecher, Executive Director of Mountain Youth, firstname.lastname@example.org