Reality Changers is committed to helping San Diego youth overcome environmental challenges in their journey to higher education. For Andrea Camarena, overcoming the odds has been part of her existence on a daily basis. Andrea is a survivor of abuse and bullying, and her pain become the catalyst to lead and heal others. She has shown admirable resilience and an incredible commitment to success.
Tell us a little bit about your early life and some challenges you had to overcome.
I grew up with two major factors affecting my everyday life: I was born in Mexico and I grew up with an abusive father. Although the two don’t resemble each other on any level and may not even seem like such crucial aspects of one’s life, they were important nonetheless. Having come from a country like Mexico and jumping into a completely new culture left a void; I wanted to stay connected to my home country and also create a new life in the United States.
What other obstacles did you deal with early on?
Ever since I was a little girl I was bullied for being the odd girl out, whether it was in Mexico for having had come from the U.S., or in the U.S. for being from Mexico. So moving here I had a mission, and that was to create my own fate and to give others the strength to do so as well.
How have you made the most of your opportunity here in the U.S.?
I have been blessed with opportunities to make an impact beyond my direct community and into other schools around San Diego. I began my impact on my campus by joining University City Pals – a peer connecting, tutoring, and supporting club – as a sophomore, then fell in love with the work and co-founded The University City High School Anti-Defamation League (UCHS, ADL) Club after the ADL came to my campus to train fifteen students and me to become certified peer trainers. Through this new anti-bullying and anti-hate club, I facilitated over a dozen peer trainings with students throughout our campus, and even trained the 83 teachers of the UC High Staff and the 50 teachers of the local middle school. This club gave commencement to the “No Hate” movement on my campus and in my community. I was inspired to begin this movement after experiencing firsthand the effects of hate in one’s life, being bullied as a child and having lost a peer to the same kind of hate. It has since become my passion and, now being equipped with ADL’s teachings, I am determined to spread my knowledge in college, the work space, and all communities around me.
It seems you’ve been inspired to lead others, based on your unique experiences. Is that an accurate description of your mission?
Absolutely. Through these two clubs, I was able to reach out to teens, kids, and even adults, helping each discover great new sides of themselves and how to make a passionate impact on their school and community as well. Meanwhile, I worked alongside my school counselor and psychologist to train other students in my high school to become peer counselors and tutors. My passion for leadership extends further; after accomplishing the teacher trainings and over a dozen teen trainings, I worked alongside my school counselor and the Vice President of my other clubs to found UCHS MEChA, a club for Mexican and Chicano students. MEChA opened new perspectives to me, as it is a completely different field of community involvement than what I have ever done before. It gave me a new sense of pride to be Mexican, and having been born and raised in both distinct cultures came to be advantageous when bringing back the same kind of pride to the Mexicans and Chicanos in this country.
Have you been involved in extracurricular activities?
Yes, I became a certified UCSD Hospital volunteer. As a CallPool volunteer, I was in charge of running labs and helping patients in, now, three connecting hospitals with a total of 17 floors. Unfortunately, after my parents’ separation I became the household’s second income and that took first priority for my free time outside of school. Although keeping up with a college class, four AP classes, and working over 20 hours each week absorbed all my time, the one thing I could not drop was my ADL club. I proudly worked alongside the National Organization’s San Diego director, my school staff, and my club Vice President to certify 40 new students, including 10 incoming freshman from the middle school, to become UC High School’s new generation of ADL Peer Trainers.
Do you think your many activities, memberships and leadership initiatives have created a personal legacy?
I do. Although my high school career ended upon graduation, my journey does not end there. My club co-founder and I will now focus on further training our new generation of peer-trainers, and continue on the new “No Place for Hate” missions we closely planned with the school faculty. This direct impact is what continues to motivate me to continue to seek out new opportunities to make my community a better place. Even though my high school education is over, I plan to make the most of future educational opportunities. Every day is a chance to learn something new, even if you’re not a student!
With students like Andrea, it’s clear why we’re passionate about supporting and empowering student leaders.. Reality Changers is proud to mentor, assist, and tutor students and community leaders like Andrea every day. If you’d like to donate to our cause and help other students like Andrea, click here. Thanks for visiting Reality Changers – and check back for additional Monthly Student Spotlight profiles!