Over the past few years, I’ve had the great opportunity to participate in the Spark program in Los Angeles during middle school, be a part of Spark’s Alumni Advisory Council, and intern at Spark during the summer before entering college this Fall. I take this opportunity to reflect on my experience and how Spark has changed my life.
Growing up, I never had much stability. I moved many times and attended 11 different schools. My parents are immigrants from Nicaragua who did not attend college, but my parents have always emphasized upon me to do good in school when I was at a young age and continue to do so. When I was 9 years old, immigration officers came to my house and took my dad while I was present with my siblings and mom.
At that moment many things were going to change for me and my family. My mom began to work because my dad was the only source of income for my family. About two years later, my mother began to get very sick. Although she knew she was getting sick, she wanted to continue to work because she knew there were bills that needed to get paid. It was about three months of going to the ER back and forth until she had to get surgery. At that moment, I thought I was going to lose both of my parents. My mom was now very sick and I did not know if I was going to lose her forever and my dad was deported and I had no idea when would be the next time I would see him.
I joined Spark at Bethune Middle School in the 8th grade. I joined because I wanted to have the opportunity to have someone who could help guide me. I was excited to join and told my family about it. My mom was thrilled to hear that Spark may be an opportunity that could really benefit me in learning something in which I did not think I would have the chance of learning, nor did I ever think I would have a mentor to help me.
When I was told that my mentor was going to be a CFO and Co-Founder, I was very shocked. I never thought I was going to have a mentor who was in those positions. I was grateful to know that for once I was going to be able to explore the career of my interest with a person in which I had no doubt was going to guide me.
When I met my mentor Perry Wallack for the first time, I knew how he would look because I searched him up days before we met. I was shy when I met Perry. I would shake my head for responses and if I spoke, it was very little that came out of my mouth. When Perry asked me what I wanted to be, I told him I wanted to be a business owner. From the beginning of the mentorship, I saw how Perry was willing to help me with questions about his own experience of building Cornerstone OnDemand.
I decided I wanted to make my project on starting my own coffee shop because it was something my family wanted to have as a business. Perry helped me develop my idea about starting a coffee shop by learning about Starbucks. We decided to do a case study on Starbucks in order to learn how the company has grown. I was able to interview the manager of a Starbucks shop and was able to learn more about business.
When putting my project together, Perry made me practice a lot. I practiced presenting about 1,000 times. Perry would correct every small mistake, and if I made any mistake whether it was fidgeting, my stance, or if I wasn’t loud enough for him to hear me, he would stop me and have me start over. Since I was shy and spoke low, Perry told me that singing in the shower would help me to project my voice louder. Perry told my mom and brother to make sure I was singing in the shower loud enough for them to hear me in the house. As hilarious as it sounds, it actually worked. I did feel as if my voice was more projected. At the culminating event, Share Your Spark, I was able to present without a problem. I made sure I used gestures well, I spoke loud enough, and did not stutter.
After Spark, I kept in touch with Perry and continue to do so. Perry and I have had the pleasure of participating in many different events for Spark such as Spark A Dream, Spark’s Stakeholder Convening, and Spark the Summer. We have also participated in South L.A.’s first Tedx Talk. I organized the Tedx talk through the entrepreneurship club in my high school and invited Perry be one of the speakers at the event.
Perry has been a mentor in many ways, not just career wise, but also life wise. He and his family attended my high school graduation and has given me great college advice. The skills he has taught me, I have not learned anywhere else but from him. I really do see Perry as one of the wisest people I know. I think that his advice goes beyond career or life based. It really helps me keep my mind hungry for knowledge about the world and opportunities to do good. Although Perry often says that I give him too much credit, I truly believe that he deserves more credit than I give him.
Returning to Spark
Interning at Spark after graduating high school made me excited about learning the “behind the scenes”. I know what it’s like to participate in the program, but I did not know what it looked like when we are doing student or corporate partner recruitment.
During my summer, I have enjoyed my role as intern for Spark. I have loved being a part of the social media team, corporate luncheons, and national calls. My favorite part of the internship was representing the interests of students for the program, and working on projects such as the Alumni Advisory Council. Spark has impacted my life and I was happy I got to help make the experience for students the best it possibly can be. As I move on to college, I am looking forward to being part of a new community, continuing to share my experience and learn from others’ stories because I believe people’s stories are very impactful and sharing them is very powerful.