Girl in Action: One Teen on a Mission to Encourage Others
Thinking about the future can sometimes be scary, especially when you’re thinking about somebody else’s. For 17-year-old Diana Florencio, however, these are common thoughts. Florencio is a chapter president of SPARK the Truth, an organization that works to help youth reach their career and social goals by fostering a healthy living style and encouraging them to be a larger part of something. As president she organizes meetings and works with teens to create events that encourage team work, community service, and positive actions. Florencio has accomplished many things in her four years of high school at the Boston Community and Leadership Academy, as both an active member of her school and of her community. She excelled academically and graduated as valedictorian of her class. Currently, she has completed more than 100 hours of community service. Teen Voices editorial intern Nisreen Galloway recently spoke to Diana about her success and her commitment to helping others.
Teen Voices (TV): You’re involved with an organization at your school called SPARK the Truth. What does this organization do?
Diana Florencio (DF): This organization works for youth and basically tries to promote a good / healthy living style for teens. It does this by allowing teens to be a part of a group and allowing them to create their own activities for youth…It’s a social support and a place that encourages you to do well in school. But it’s more of a social support as in ‘I’m here for you; you can count on me and we can work out things our way.’
TV: What is your role within the organization and how did you originally get involved?
DF: Right now, I am the president. I am the one who organizes…what we need to do in order to keep us on track. I got involved with SPARK the Truth my sophomore year of high school.
TV: Does SPARK also work with students outside of your school like in your community?
DF: SPARK is mainly for BPS [Boston Public Schools] kids and some colleges as well. However we do try and integrate other schools that don’t have SPARK. A couple years back there was a basketball tournament where we got different schools to compete against each other. We encouraged them to work in a group and to do the best they can so that their other team mates can do their best as well.
TV: What specific events does SPARK host?
DF: [Earlier this year] We did a healthy seminar where we were trying to promote healthy living and a healthy life style. We had a Zumba section to show that it can be fun getting healthy and we had an eating session that displayed healthy food choices. They showed different kinds of vegetarian dishes, explained how to become vegetarian if you wish, and how to eat right. We also had a self defense instructor again, (we did this event twice this year). The activities are there to show a possibility. It’s not that they have to do it but it’s to show them a possibility of what they can do to be healthy.
TV: How has SPARK the Truth impacted you?
DF: SPARK the Truth allowed me to have and build more of my [own] perspectives of activism. I’ve always liked to do community service and do stuff that has to do with helping people, but this kind is different. I am teaching myself certain things, but I am also trying to work for other youth who need help or some kind of support.
TV: How would you say it has impacted the community?
DF: We have grown a lot. We now work in four colleges and five high schools…The message we try to get out is to be positive in life and try to do the best you can do. SPARK is grounded in a concept called “Ubuntu” which is an African word that means “I am because you are.” It encourages students to do better and to try and do their best so that others around them will try and do their best as well. [The concept is that we can all help each other do better—it doesn’t have to be that if you do well, I don’t, that one succeeds when another fails. In fact, it’s the opposite concept—I can only do well when we are all doing well.]
TV: You recently graduated from the Boston Community Leadership Academy, a competitive public school with an emphasis on developing leadership skills. What made you decide to go to this school and has it lived up to your expectations?
DF: I was introduced to this school by someone at my middle school. It really intrigued me that [the school name] included…leadership and community at the same time. I think of leadership as one person leading everyone else and then community is more like a pack…[but] being in the school itself, I’ve learned that somehow, they both combine. There can’t be a leader if there’s not a community because nobody would follow that leader. I was interested in going in to the school because I wanted to see how that felt and I also wanted to be a leader...I felt like that school would give me the chance to do this and I feel like it has…I feel like I’ve grown a lot [and] I’ve learned a lot of skills that [I] don’t think I would’ve learned anywhere else. I think it’s very important to be involved at school because high school is the year that you get to…start to experience the social life. I feel like if you make the best of it, you’ll be OK when you go to the outside world.
TV: Do you see yourself as a leader now?
DF: I think I do. Well, I try to be at least. I want to help people guide themselves to where they want to go because in my life I’ve had a lot of support from people that truly care about me. I feel like there are people who sometimes don’t have that support and if you need it, I am more than glad to give it to you…Going back to SPARK and Ubuntu, “I am because you are,” if I don’t do my best to help you, how are you going to do your best to help somebody else in the future? It’s a tag along thing; I help you and in the future, you’ll help somebody else. Or at least we hope that you do.
TV: Do you have any advice for our readers on how to be a successful leader, volunteer, and young woman?
DF: I would say to always try to be the best you can be. Try your hardest. If you love something, do it. If you think it would be good for the future, do it. If you think it’s going to help you get to your goal, do it. We can never look back at the things that we’ve done, even though they might be bad. You have to do way better to try to cover or replace that. Just keep moving forward with the things you do in life. It’s the only way.
TV: Have you noticed any differences between the way boys and girls obtain power and exhibit leadership skills either in the community or in school?
DF: Interesting question. I can’t say overall because every person is different, but I do know that in a way, girls do rule differently when it comes to leadership stuff. Girls tend to take more in that organizational ‘OK, we gotta do this and be on track’ kind of thing. Whereas sometimes boys are strong, but then they don’t take it that seriously, or keep it organized like a girl does. There are times when I feel like, at our age right now, the girls are more up to [being a leader] than guys are. TV: What motivates you to do well?
DF: I have a lot of support from my family. The work that my parents have put into getting me a good education is my motivation—telling me that you have to somehow repay what has been done [for] you. The best way to do it is for me to try and do well in my education so that they can see that I’m thankful for the things that they have done. I also have a younger sister and we are Irish twins, [meaning] we are eleven months apart. We are very close and even though she’s younger, she’s kind of [my] best friend…I feel like she has been [my] role model on how to do best. I know that if I do something bad, my sister might end up doing something bad too, and I don’t want her to. I know that I have to do well so that she can try to do well too…or do even better [than me] if she can.
TV: What are your plans for the future and what do you hope to accomplish?
DF: Well, I’m going to Holy Cross College next year. The nearest plan I have is to try and get through my freshman year [of college], which is a whole new thing for me. I want to keep trying to help people somehow, because I really enjoy it. I want to find some kind of program or organization that will help me do that. I also want to become a dentist in the future.
TV: Do you have any last-minute thoughts for our readers?
DF: The biggest message I would try and tell teens is to try and pursue the happiness. Not the happiness of other people, or what seems to be their happiness, but your inner happiness. Because that’s the only way you’re going to succeed in life. Succeed could mean a hundred or a million different things. However, you [should] think [what] succeed could mean for you and try and achieve it. Don’t try and achieve the other person’s definition of succeeding in life. Try to do your best in life and try to encourage others...Be proactive about what you want to do and if you know that you can do it, do it!
To learn more about SPARK the Truth and how you can get involved in your own community click here.
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