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UA Northern Virginia holds fifth annual Public Speaking Challenge

It’s the beginning of the end for Urban Alliance’s 2017-18 program year – our first Public Speaking Challenge (PSC) of the year.

74 recent high school graduates from Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax County shared what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown as participants in Urban Alliance’s High School Internship Program at UA Northern Virginia’s Fifth Annual PSC on July 12.

Eva Mercado, a 2018 graduate of J.E.B. Stuart High School, was the event’s featured student speaker. “Before Urban Alliance, I worked alongside my family at night, including my mom, delivering newspaper in an old warehouse that lacked ventilation, was covered in cobwebs and caked in dust … I went in fresh and clean, and left stained in newly-printed ink and calloused,” Mercado said.

Mercado is interested in pursuing politics, so Urban Alliance placed her in an internship at the Fairfax County Democratic Committee where she had the opportunity to help plan and attend events. “I attended the governor’s inauguration, and I was able to meet the 44th President of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama,” Mercado said. “This governor’s inauguration was the most impactful for my mom and I. It was emotional for us because my mom immigrated to this country and never saw herself being at an event like that. This disappointed me, that she thought she would feel out of place in such an important aspect of society. But it also made me realize how Urban Alliance has impacted not only me, but also is starting to impact my family because of my successes. I’ve come to realize, in the span of two years from working in an old warehouse to working in an office, Urban Alliance has now set me on the right path toward my desired future.”

2018 J.E.B. Stuart High School graduate Stacey Romero, who interned at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, was named Intern of the Year and awarded a $1,000 scholarship. Her mentor at Goodwin House, Greta Christ, shared that, “on her first day following orientation, she was tasked with helping set up a social event for our residents with dementia. Stacey helped other interns and staff with getting all the materials out and with transporting individuals who were wheelchair-bound to the venue downstairs. As the event began, incidentally a resident began to express confusion as to what was happening. Stacey not only confidently and calmly stepped in to comfort this resident, she did so in the resident’s native tongue with grace and respect…

“Her level of skill and attentiveness have made her a true asset to our organization. If it were not for her name badge indicating her internship status, one would think she has been employed at GHBC for years,” Christ continued. “Everyone who has interacted with Stacey knows that not only is she a phenomenal individual with a kind heart, she is someone who will do well regardless of what goals she has for herself.”

In addition, six students were awarded Core Values Awards celebrating their exemplary performances during the year:

  • Vanessa Agyemang (J.E.B. Stuart High School ’18) interned at Northern Virginia Community College
  • Gisela Arispe (Washington-Lee High School ’18) interned at the Animal Welfare League
  • Deborah Jaldin (Wakefield High School ’18) interned at Virginia Tech (Arlington campus)
  • Nina Le (J.E.B. Stuart High School ’18) interned at the Virginia Tech Thinkabit Lab
  • Jennifer Rivera-Ferreyra (T.C. Williams High School ’18) interned at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Jah’ve Witcher (T.C. Williams High School ’18) interned at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

The workplace mentors who support the students throughout their internships were also celebrated at today’s event. 2018 T.C. Williams High School graduate Ricardo Caceres presented his mentors at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – Tim Luepke and John Jacquette – with the Mentors of the Year Award. The USPTO is Urban Alliance’s largest job partner in Northern Virginia, hosting 25 interns per year.

“I really appreciate how John and Tim both pushed me outside my comfort zone and introduced me to new technologies and skills,” Ricardo said. “I also appreciate that both John and Tim trust me and rely on me to perform important tasks. They also made me feel confident performing tasks that I felt I could not complete because they believed in me and gave the opportunity to succeed … They are great people that really care about me and my personal development and wanted to see me succeed in my areas of interest.”

Interns also heard from keynote speaker and former White House advisor Michelle J. Millben, who challenged them to use their new skills for positive change: “Use your life to communicate a positive force for the country … What can you communicate from your life that one day, decades from now, we could be using as a quote to live by? … We’re looking to you guys now, because you’re the writers of our history.”

“I really wish there was something like Urban Alliance where I grew up in Oklahoma, but unfortunately I just had a strict mom,” Millben added. “I look at this room; it’s exactly what Dr. King dreamed about, all of us coming together, joining together, sitting together at the table of brotherhood and advancing this world in a better way together. I look at this room and I see you guys definitely reflecting that dream.”