The importance and impact of a quality education continues to remain top of mind for many today as more emphasis is put on attaining a college degree to have a successful career, but for many others the dream of a college degree seems impossible. Helping turn those dreams into reality for the last 14 years is the AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute alongside partners such as Willmeng Construction, which was recognized and honored for its support during AGUILA’s 9th Annual Luncheon held at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.
In 2004, CEO Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez (Mrs. H) founded AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute with the goal of positively impacting underserved communities through education to empower and prepare youth for college admissions and graduation through a unique approach based on greater cultural understanding as a guide to personal, academic and professional excellence as future leaders. To date, AGUILA has guided more than 1,300 youth to 116 colleges and universities with scholarships totaling more than $95 million.
As a sponsor of the program for the last five years, Willmeng President James Murphy was brought on stage and received a gift of appreciation from AGUILA for Willmeng’s commitment and dedication to be a leader in the community and set the bar for how other private companies, organizations, institutions and individuals can assist in creating opportunities for young leaders. “For me, it’s an obligation of the businesses to support all of the talented individuals, with great aptitude and great work ethic regardless of where they are from, all the way through the education system,” explained Murphy.
Sharing his commitment to education and understanding of its effects on the economy is Chris Camacho, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), who Murphy invited to speak and share insights about the correlation between education and Arizona’s economy of the future. Prior to leading this year’s top economic development organization in the United States, Camacho spent four years in Yuma working on economic development strategy and bi-national work before moving to Phoenix 10 years ago.
“The future economic disposition of markets, regions and states is predicated on how we produce people across all equity pathways,” he explained. “I believe the nexus of innovation, coupled with our ability to export products, and ability to produce people is the 21st century economic equation but you can’t leave any one of those segments out.” Looking ahead, Camacho is convinced “Arizona will be the most dynamic economy in the U.S. by 2040” as long as organizations like AGUILA and business leaders like Murphy continue to lead the charge through a commitment to education and finding more alternative and direct pathways for producing talented people.
Willmeng Project Manager Pablo Sandoval is one of more than 1,300 examples of students that benefited from AGUILA, which he credits for helping him obtain his college degree. He spoke at last year’s luncheon as a Class of 2007 graduate and remains active in the organization today as a board and faculty member.
While preparation for college must include the fundamentals of developing writing skills, preparing for tests and more, AGUILA believes inclusion of the arts, literature, civic engagement, social justice, service learning, health and wellness are equally important in developing successful students.
“AGUILA is more than a college preparation experience,” explains Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez. “Our students discover a sense of self and connectedness that contribute to their success.”
Echoing AGUILA’s mission, vision and values was keynote speaker Keynote Speaker Dr. Alfredo Quinones Hinojosa (Dr. Q) who shared an inspiring story about his journey from undocumented farm worker to Harvard University graduate to world renowned neuroscientist/neurosurgeon.
Dr. Q’s incredible journey began as an impoverished teenager living in rural Mexico who hopped an 18-foot border fence into California and found the American Dream through hope, hard work, persistence and understanding the value of an education.
During his speech in reference to the need for higher education opportunities within underserved communities and AGUILA’s important role in facilitating those, Dr. Q said, “the possibilities are endless, and the future is bright.” Camacho also believes the future is bright for Arizona, predicting the state will have the most dynamic economy in the United States by 2040.
The AGUILA program allows for 9-12th grade students to attend monthly seminars with a focus on personal growth, leadership and college or career preparation enhanced with related activities, events and experiences. Students are exposed to many local and national leaders, educators, resources, programs and organizations providing additional support toward academic, personal and professional goals. To learn more about the program and to become involved, visit aguilayouth.org.