Pawtucket, Rhode Island is home to a generation of youth who are extremely talented and driven. However, in order to succeed, our youth need increased support from the successful young adults who have come before them. Elena Vasquez – an active member of the community, a Brown University graduate, and a native of Pawtucket – has dedicated several years of her young life to do just that.
Elena was a top student at Shea High School in Pawtucket, where she graduated in 2007. Her top performance in high school placed her on the radar of many teachers and administrators. This attention awarded Elena the support she needed to supplement her own impressive talent and hard work. She was accepted into Brown University, and successfully earned her college degree within four years.
However, after graduating from college and returning to secondary education to serve as a College Adviser for Woonsocket High School, she realized that not all of her high school classmates were afforded the same support and attention that she gained as a top student.
She also realized the complexities of the college application process. With her eyes opened to the realities of our country’s college access issues, Elena made it her responsibility to give back to her community so that others from her hometown could be afforded the same opportunities that she had as a student in the public school system.
It was for this reason that Elena decided she would run for Pawtucket School Committee. The decision was easy for her. However, the journey to reach this ambitious goal would be anything but easy.
Stepping Outside of Her Comfort Zone
Running for office meant putting herself out there. Running for office meant door-knocking and talking to people who may or may not be receptive to what she had to say. Reaching her goal also meant fundraising. These were all things that were new to Elena.
“For my first fundraiser, I didn’t raise as much as I wanted,” said Elena. “But I continued to run for the position anyway.” Elena refused to allow the challenges along the way deter her from her goal. “I realized that unless you put yourself out there, you’ll never know. I didn’t think I could win,” Elena said.
Yet, here she is today, an elected member of the Pawtucket School Committee. Having only graduated from high school 12 years ago, she is already an elected member of the Rhode Island legislature, and thriving in her second year in office.
Elena is not only an Ivy League grad and a champion for college access efforts, but she is also an alumna of the New Leaders Council (NLC) program. She shared that it was her participation in NLC that solidified her decision to run for Pawtucket School Committee. It was during this program that Elena first shared in a public setting her desire to run. “Saying it out loud made it real,” Elena said.
Making a Real Impact
As a member of the Pawtucket School Committee, Elena is extremely proud to serve on the policy sub-committee, which recently helped to pass a graduate requirement that ensures students in the Pawtucket school system graduate from high school with 2 years of a foreign language. “This is something that we were really pushing for, so it was very exciting to see this policy put into place,” Elena said.
With her drive and persistence, Elena has been able to make a real impact in our community one policy at a time, one day at a time, and one student at time. This is quite impressive for a young woman who is still very early in her professional career.
Elena recently decided that she is ready for her next step, and announced this past June that she is running for Pawtucket City Council At-Large. We’re excited to see Elena continue to push herself to new endeavors. We know that Elena will continue to make a significant impact on our beautiful city.
As Elena continues to pursue her ambitious goals, she encourages others to do the same. She has a very simple, yet powerful message for those of us who have big dreams that may seem too scary or overwhelming to start: “If you have a dream or an idea,” Elena says, “just do it.”
US & OUR CULTURE
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“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
– African Proverb