- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

When Jeff Olson, motivational speaker and author of “The Slight Edge,” talks, people listen. At least, Amanda M. Quinones did when he said: “Find people who’ve done what you want to do and surround yourself with them.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ms. Quinones, 23, has always been surrounded by good, nurturing people. She hails from a close-knit, devoutly Catholic family and credits her parents, Miguel and Madalaine, as being her greatest inspirations.

Her father is Puerto Rican, and her mother is Italian, and from this well-blended union, Ms. Quinones said she learned and still cherishes a strong sense of family and community values. She fondly remembers growing up with many extended family members and recalls with childlike enthusiasm Christmases spent at both her maternal and paternal relatives’ homes.

“I had the best of two worlds, rather cultures,” said Ms. Quinones, who lives in Columbia Heights in the District.

In 2006, while an American University student majoring in international relations, Ms. Quinones was an intern at the U.S. Department of Labor in the Mine Safety Health Administration. Her supervisor, Laura McCullen, encouraged her to volunteer with the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers, an entity that focuses attention on the needs of Hispanic-Americans in all areas of federal employment. Ms. McCullen, who was actively involved with the Hispanic College Fund (HCF), also recruited Ms. Quinones to help plan its 2006 Hispanic Youth Symposium.

So began Ms. Quinones’ volunteer work with HCF, whose Web site describes it as a nonprofit organization established in 1993 to provide Hispanic high school and college students with the vision, resources and mentorship to become community leaders and achieve successful careers in business, science, technology, engineering and math.

This year, Ms. Quinones was honored with the HCF’s 2008 President’s Volunteer Service Award during a reception in May.

Though her initial assigned tasks were limited in 2006 - she filled in wherever needed - Ms. Quinones said she was indelibly moved by the positive effect the workshops had on participants. Once-shy students who had little or no hope of attending college emerged confident and determined to go, she said.

“I was hooked. I made it my point to be involved,” she said.

HCF has awarded $13 million in scholarships to more than 4,800 Hispanic youth, according to its Web site. The organization has expanded its programs to include HCF Connections, an online career-centered network for Hispanic youth; the Karen Marquez Institute for Young Hispanic Professionals, a leadership development program; Latinos on Fast Track, a professional internship and placement program; and the Hispanic Youth Symposium, a program designed to inspire Hispanic high school students to attend college.

During the four-day, three-night summer youth symposium - held locally this year at George Mason University - participants were motivated to become college graduates, career professionals and community volunteers.

At the 2007 Hispanic Youth Symposium, Theresa Avillar-Speake, then director of the Department of Energy’s office of economic impact and diversity, said she had had a chance encounter with the “very composed” Ms. Quinones. Both were panelists talking to students about choosing college and career paths: Ms. Speake as a mature, experienced employer, Ms. Quinones as a very bright and youthful role model.

Ms. Speake recalled being so impressed with Ms. Quinones that she offered the young woman an opportunity to intern in a career-track position.

Ms. Speake is proud of her find. “Total control” is how she defines the statuesque Ms. Quinones. “Amanda is poised, assertive, not afraid of work, well-presented and is a self-starter. You give her something to do, and she takes off with it. She is always in total control,” Ms. Speake said.

Ms. Quinones, who graduated from American University in 2008, is a full-time employee of the Department of Energy as a program analyst.

Meanwhile, she has blossomed into a volunteer extraordinaire. She continues to serve HCF as a moderator for various panels. She leads the DOE-HCF scholarship review committee and served as a 2009 essay competition evaluator. Ms. Quinones is also an active member of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority.

Guadalupe Hernandez, 18, met Ms. Quinones at the 2008 Hispanic Youth Symposium, and the two have kept in touch since. They regularly text-message each other and often meet for coffee or dinner.

After she receives an associate’s degree, Ms. Hernandez, a freshman at Montgomery College, hopes to transfer to Ms. Quinones’ alma mater, American University.

“Amanda is a good connection. She’s really nice, helpful, like an older sister,” Ms. Hernandez said.

Ms. Quinones said she loves being a mentor to Hispanic youth, many of whom have no role models and do not often see successful people who look like them. She says her volunteerism has “helped me grow.”

To continue to aspire others to obtain their goals, Ms. Quinones wants to pursue a graduate degree possibly in public health or education.

The Hispanic College Fund is always seeking volunteers and encourages its alumni, who have become successful, to “send the elevator back down.”

Ms. Quinones not only sends the elevator back down but also presses the “door open” button, rides with others on their way up and even gently suggests where they should get off.

Geraldine Washington is a freelance writer living in the District.

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