Get Inspired by our Rising Leaders Scholarship Honorees

On Thursday, August 13, JBBBSLA and Camp Bob Waldorf hosted the annual Rising Leaders Scholarship Awards event.

Camp Bob Waldorf helps campers learn, grow, and become our future leaders. We introduced the Rising Leaders Scholarship program in 2016 to recognize campers who have participated in our Teen Camp and Counselor-In-Trainer (CIT) Programs. Since then, it has awarded over $50,000 to 10 honorees, encouraging them to pursue their academic goals. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible!

While this event is normally an in-person celebration to honor the achievements of these outstanding college students, due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, we gathered on Zoom for an intimate and inspiring evening. We want to share the words of two of the event’s featured speakers, Ulysses Maldonado and Valeria Olmedo.

Ulysses Maldonado

Ulysses has been a part of our camp family since 2014 and graduated in June from CSUN with a major in Sociology. He shared his experience with camp and as a former Rising Leaders Scholarship recipient.

Hello, my name is Ulysses Maldonado, and I am a first-generation college graduate.

I chose to go down a different path than many of my family members. Though they had many more opportunities than I did, they chose not to go to college. I decided to get a higher education and get a bachelor’s degree in Sociology to inspire them to do the same thing. Despite all the struggles, late nights, and stress that came with going to college, I can say it’s all worth it. Now my bachelor’s degree is hanging on the wall high enough for everyone to see.

Now, I want to tell you a little about my camp life. I first went to camp as a CIT the summer my older sister passed away at 35. Camp was a place for me to heal during that hard time in my life and showed me how to grow as a person. It also helped me realize something great. Camp helped show me how to take over the role my sister had in my family. It allowed me to become the next rising leader in my family and show everyone that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

In the five years that I have been a part of camp, I have taken on many titles. This includes being a CIT, cabin counselor, dual counselor, which meant I was a cabin counselor and the archery instructor, I have worked in the kitchen helping prepare food for all the campers, as a Witherbee counselor, and most recently, as the Operations Director this past summer. All these positions have taught me different lessons such as to never give up no matter how difficult the situation is. To always look 10 steps ahead of anything you do in order to achieve your goals without defeat. And most importantly, if you fall to always get back up and stand up taller than you were before.

The Rising Leader Scholarship has also done many things for me, such as financially helping me with school. As I always told my nephew whenever he saw my check come in the mail and said, “Wow that’s a lot of money!” I would tell him that I didn’t get this money for free. I got it by working hard in school to get good grades and educate myself. That if you educate yourself, you can get a check like this too when you’re older.

The Rising Leader Scholarship wasn’t just there financially, it was also there whenever I needed some advice or guidance in my life. When I just needed to hear someone say, “You got this and to keep pushing.” To be a part of a community like the Rising leader Scholarship and camp is to be a part of a family. To not just see it as a non-profit but to see it as a group of strong, hard-working people who want to see us succeed because if we succeed, they succeed.

I want to end my speech with a quote from my favorite show, Naruto, “If you don’t like your destiny, don’t accept it. Instead have the courage to change it the way you want it to be!”- Naruto Uzumaki

Valeria Olmedo

Valeria is starting her senior year at USC with a major in Law, History, and Culture, with a minor in Economics. She shared her experience as a CIT and scholarship recipient.

I became a CIT the summer before my sophomore year which as I say seems like a long time ago. Yet, despite the time that has passed, my experiences at Camp Bob Waldorf continue to influence me. I was a Counselor in Training for a year and a Camp Counselor for two years, totaling to three years shared with lifelong friends from all over the world and amazing kids. I get calls from Poland because of the friendships I made in Glendale, kinda crazy when I think about it. Before Camp Bob Waldorf, I had never been to a summer camp before. So often, both my campers and I shared excitement and nerves when trying new things like horse riding or archery. I always said how the camp cabins reminded me of home, mostly because at my house we also have about 10 kids running around. So being in charge of so many kids was nothing new to me.

However, I was not ready to respond to some of the experiences these children have gone through. I had a camper ask me as we laid on the field using a hula hoop as a pretend steering wheel if I was willing to adopt her and her 6-year-old brother. She even tried to convince me by saying she was clean and knew how to sweep. I explained that I couldn’t because I was only 17 and she simply laid back down and used her pretend steering wheel to drive us to pretend Disneyland. I ended up crying during Rose and Thorns that afternoon because I knew her strength was a product of so many hard times. I loved how much camp was a safe haven for both campers and counselors. This memory may not be my favorite but it has been the most impactful.

I decided to go to college for the obvious reasons: better my family socioeconomic status, set a foundation for my career, and make my family and community proud. All these reasons were real and tangible and helped through moments of doubt. But as my time at USC progressed, I realized that the commitment of a higher education was to no one but myself and in the intrinsic value I saw in it. The real tangible reasons felt so drastic that they often overwhelmed me. I stress how heavily these reasons weighed because I am a First-generation, low-income, child of migrants, with zero generational wealth. But the second, I shifted my mindset and USC became a place solely meant for me to geek out and explore my interests, a lot of my anxiety went away.

Our status as college students and scholarship recipients grants us enormous privilege that should be utilized for more good. This past semester, I worked with the Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles, Nest Tijuana, and the Minority Humanitarian Foundation to create a short documentary on the importance of play for migrant children displaced in Mexico due to the United States’ Remain in Mexico Immigration Policy, along with highlighting the impact of the novel Coronavirus on this vulnerable community. I visited a shelter in Mexico and was able to pay for the equipment I needed to do the documentary with the help of the Rising Leaders Scholarship. So thank you to the board and donors for allowing me to have such a life-changing experience, that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Your financial support and lending ear has granted me a lot of tranquility during my time at USC. Thank you to Brian Appel for always answering my emails, even when they are about a page long. With the help of the scholarship funds, I don’t have to worry about the costs of school. Instead, I can focus on paying for LSAT prep, graduate school applications, and maybe even a power suit for job interviews as my time at USC comes to an end. I hope with the education I gained, I am able to apply it and help minimize the injustices we see every day. I truly believe we all have the power and soon the college degree to call out inequality and demand change for us and future generations.

Learn more about JBBBSLA’s Scholarship Program College by visiting our Scholarships webpage. For additional questions, contact Carina Garcia, Director of Scholarship and Alumni Programs, at cgarcia@jbbbsla.org.

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