Maria Aguirre likes to help other people’s dreams come true: making sure a child has presents wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning, doing her part to fund cancer research, helping distribute grants to organizations doing good in her Wyoming community.
Through extensive giving back and taking a leadership role in doing so, she reveals the good in people and the community, making places and people’s days brighter. She’s a leader at Godwin Heights Public Schools, the newly-named president for Student Leadership Council, and continually organizing programs and pitching in on school-wide efforts.
“I like trying to get the better out of the community, and putting forward that good. It makes you feel good about yourself, bringing out what’s better in the world,” Maria said.
Maria is a scholar, a worker, a leader, and a Dreamer.
‘It Makes me Feel Torn’
The 17-year-old senior arrived with her parents from Mexico when she was 3-years-old, and hasn’t been back there since. She doesn’t remember their home in Monterrey, the capital of the northeastern Mexican state of Nuevo León, or what it’s like there.
At age 15, she paid the $495 application fee for protection from deportation and a work permit through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, created under the Obama Administration. She enrolled as a Dreamer, along with her brothers, among 800,000 individuals in the program.
Now, with doubt cast on her permanent status in the U.S. by the Trump Administration, who rescinded the policy in September, Maria’s dreams are hazy. Trump’s decision officially ends the program in March and halts new applications, but those whose permits expire before March 5 can apply for a two-year renewal, which Maria did. (Trump called on Congress to pass immigration legislation to replace it, and tweeted that he will “revisit this issue” if Congress does not act.)
“It makes me worried if in the future I won’t be able to qualify for a replacement of DACA. Would I have to go back to a country that isn’t my country – that I don’t know anything about?
“It makes me feel torn. It makes me feel depressed.”
But Maria is the kind of person who keeps forging ahead at her school and in the community, despite what her future holds.
Beginning each November since her freshman year, she has been collecting as many toys as possible with the Student Leadership Council for DA Blodgett St. John’s Home. The Council invites Godwin teachers to adopt children at the foster-care facility and have them encourage students to bring in gifts.
Annually, she works with fellow members of National Honor Society to clean up nearby Hillcroft Park. She raises funds for Relay for Life, the annual 24-hour walk to raise money for cancer research. She’s planning an Unsung Heroes Dinner at school to recognize support staff, like janitors and paraprofessionals, who make a difference at the school. Maria gets to church early to help with Sunday School.
An ambitious student, Maria is dual-enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College, where she’ll tally up a year’s worth of college credit by the time she graduates in May. She has a 3.8 grade-point average.
She just joined the Wyoming Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council to help allocate grant money to local nonprofits and works part-time at McDonald’s.
“Maria is a great role model for her peers and is a positive presence in the school,” said Student Leadership Council advisor Katie Hoffman. “She stands out as someone who wants to make a difference and is willing to go above and beyond to make our school and community a better place to be.”
Maria is always looking for new ways to influence and encourage others, Hoffman said. “I know that she will be successful in whatever field she chooses to go into and we are lucky that she has been a part of our Godwin family.”
Maria’s dreams are to go to Aquinas College or Grand Valley State University to pursue a degree in sociology and become a social worker. She dreams of making life better for people, and first and foremost, helping support her parents financially.
“Ever since I was little, I grew up struggling economically. I want to be able to, in the future, not have my parents have to work anymore,” she said. Her father is a dishwasher and her mother a stay-at-home mom.
She said growing up with limited financial resources made her passionate about doing what she can to get to college. “It was difficult, but you proceed through it and realize you need to get the education to do better.”
Godwin Heights staff members have been supportive, she said. During visits to college campus, counselors ask for any information pertaining to DACA students.
“I feel pretty confident that I am going to start college here. It feels unknown that I am going to finish it here,” Maria said.
When the DACA decision was announced, Maria’s parents were concerned for their children, who they raised as Americans. The family had already taken in children of a deported friend who wondered when their mother would be back. “They were really heartbroken. They were mostly sad.”
Encouraging Others and Getting Things Done
While leading the Leadership Team meeting on a recent Wednesday during lunch in Hoffman’s classroom, Maria told peers the details of the Christmas donation event for D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s Home. The collecting will kick off next month.
Team members said Maria stands out as a leader. As president of the Leadership Council, Maria knows how to get things done, said junior Luz Parada. She is a good example of how to lead a big group and be a positive influence on people. She is very supportive.
“I’ve known Maria for six years. She is my best friend,” said senior Kamille Martinez. “She stands outbecause she stands up for people no matter what the issue is. She stays ahead of her work. She is an encouraging person to others. She is an amazing person.”
After participating in discussion about popcorn sales and a new idea to greet students in fun ways as they arrive to school on Monday mornings, Maria wrapped up the meeting and prepared to head to GRCC for a college course. Despite what the future holds, she’s choosing a path for her dreams to become reality, being involved, pursuing education and helping others.
“You see all the bad that’s going on and all the suffering and you just want to get away from that and bring out the good that’s still left in the world,” she said.