Directing the faith-based and university-focused educational organization Reality Changers, Cecelia Villegas (age 18) fills her days developing learning tutorials for teens, outreach projects, and speaking engagements. She works with inner city youth in and around San Diego, California, to build their academic and community service resumes and also to engage them in activities not associated with inner city life such as gang and drug involvement. Cecelia says that while her hours are filled either focusing on Reality Changers or on her full school schedule at Point Loma Nazarene University, there is absolutely no bad part to her day or her responsibilities as Site Director. In guiding her teens through new SAT vocabulary or the university application process, she says the time is consuming and obstacles are many, but she is helping to mold hundreds of first generation college students become community leaders and future mentors. Learn more about Reality Changers and the successes Cecelia Villegas is helping to build in this week’s The LatinConnect.
When was it founded?
The City Heights Location was founded October 2006.
City Heights Reality Changers Director
San Diego, California
San Diego, California
Point Loma Nazarene University
Patrick Henry High School
High School Diploma
Tell us about the non-profit: How does it help the Latino Community?
Reality Changers is a non-profit organization that helps build inner city teens into first generation college students through God’s word. The third Reality Changers site, where I direct, is located at the Copley YMCA in City Heights. There, we go over popular words known to be on the SAT, have guest speakers and lessons based on faith, practice note taking skills, and review our personal lives along academics with the help of fellow tutors and Reality Changers students.
Reality Changers benefits not only the Latino Community but the country as well. At Reality Changers, we plan to change reality, to change what most perceive as an inner city student attending college to be unlikely. The success of the students in Reality Changers helps aware their community that it is indeed possible to attend a University despite their personal, everyday, neighborhood struggles.
Our non-profit organization helps the Latino Community by the students in Reality Changers completing at least 25 hours of community service annually as well. Reality Changers is all about lifting each other up. The students in Reality Changers are surrounded by peers with the same goals and aspirations and are engaged in a positive environment unlike the one they are faced with upon stepping outside the YMCA doors.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
The basic responsibilities are checking up with all the students at least once a week by telephone and e-mailing tutors. Also, I have to prepare tests on words known to be on the SAT for the students, prepare a faith-based lesson or have a guest speaker come in to assign students to note-taking skills, and pair up students with a tutor to work, study, and keep in contact with throughout the week.
The students’ responsibilities consist of maintaining at least at 3.0 GPA, perform at least 25 hours of community service, pass random drug tests, and participate in at least one school club or sport.
Most notable milestones
While although I rarely have the most notable milestones, the students are the ones that certainly do. Some consist from grades improving in a class from a F to an A to having a student once convicted of a crime – who was able to transform his lifestyle through the help of Reality Changers – receive a $4,000 scholarship to attend Academic Connections (a three-week summer residential program at UCSD where one can receive college credit) and Forest Home (a faith based summer camp in the San Bernardino Mountains).
What’s the niche?
I believe what makes me unique is my great sincere compassion to especially help others and build yet improve lives.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The only challenge is trying to manage a meeting in a small yet compact room where teen students have to sit and work on mini sized children chairs and tables for three hours.
What’s in store for the future?
Additional students will be added to my third site which means more scholarships and life changing experiences, more tutors, and hopefully a better meeting room!
Best way to keep a competitive edge?
Always strive for better.
Guiding principle in life
“Life is God’s novel, so let him write it”
Yardstick of success
Being the change in the world I wish to see.
Goal yet to be achieved
Now that I have graduated high school, I would like to graduate from my current University, Point Loma Nazarene University, in four years.
Best practical advice
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Christopher Yanov, who is the executive director of Reality Changers and has helped me get into a four year university. At the age of 15, when I had joined the program myself, he helped me abstain from drugs, alcohol, and gang related peers.
Debbie Leto, who is my tutor from Reality Changers. She always came to my softball games because my parents rarely did, helped me apply to 17 different Universities, and apply for financial aid and scholarships.
What motivated you to get started?
When I first met students from Reality Changers at UCSD Academic Connection in July of 2005. Seeing other teens from the same backgrounds and lifestyles have also the same dreams of going to college persuaded me to join and continue helping the community by becoming the director of the City Height’s Reality Changers too.
Like best about what you do?
Getting to see constant improvement in the students’ lives and hearing the speeches the students make to the hundreds of people throughout San Diego.
Like least about what you do?
What truly gets you up in the morning and ready for work?
Knowing that I can help make a difference and making personal connections with all the students.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pediatrician, and I still do till this day.
What was your first job?
Actually, it was being a Birthday Clown in my early teen years as I made balloons and face painted young children.
But my first real job was at JC Penney’s as a Sale Associate in the Women’s Accessories, for which I just got hired a few days ago finally.
Biggest pastime outside of work? Favorite hobby?
Biggest pastime was making Varsity Track my first year of pole vaulting and triple jump.
My favorite hobby is reading magazines and listening to music.
Person most interested in meeting?
I would be most interested in meeting Franklin D Roosevelt, the president my great -grandmother most appreciated. I would like to know what his drive was to get his country out of struggle especially during the Depression.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Most likely Donald Trump, because I would like to know the background to his great financial success.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I think I know the words to songs.
- I like onions only on my hot dogs, not hamburgers.
- I fear rejection.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- Reality Changers
My favorite book is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.
Making a difference.
If you could be doing anything else as a career, what would that be?
A High School Counselor.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Anyone and everyone!