(HARLINGEN, Texas) – Texas State Technical College made Texas proud by bringing back eight medals statewide from the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

And one of those medals was a silver brought home to Harlingen by TSTC students Isela Rodriguez, Iris Juarez and Alexandra Lugo for their achievement in Community Service.

SkillsUSA is a professional organization teaching technical, academic and employability skills that help high school and college students pursue successful careers. Members build these skills through student-led team meetings, contests, leadership conferences and other activities.

At the national conference more than 6,500 career and technical education students from middle school, high school and college/postsecondary institutions competed hands-on in 103 different trade, technical and leadership fields with the help of industry, trade associations and labor organizations.TSTC NationalSkillsSilver2019 300x214 - TSTC student leaders return home as SkillsUSA national champions

“There was a lot of screaming and happy tears when we were announced,” said Rodriguez. “We worked hard, had sleepless nights and while we knew we were ready, an unexpected turn of events brought some doubts.”

The women who were scheduled to present their community service project, “Helping Hands,” on Wednesday, June 26, ended up having to present a day early instead.

“This was a huge surprise. We had gone to the competition site unprepared. We thought it was only orientation,” said Juarez. “Our hearts were racing. We had to think fast.”

Lugo, who had been to a previous national competition and was familiar with the event, said they knew they were ready to present, so it was only a matter of gathering their props and proper attire quickly.

“Larissa Moreno, our advisor and TSTC Student Life Coordinator, ran back to our hotel, while we prepped because it was a race against time and possible deductions. She was a lifesaver,” said Lugo. “And because of our teamwork and preparedness, we were the only ones who presented that day. At this point we were already proud of each other.”

The women said Moreno made it back with everything they needed, plus some; and they were able to present their seven to 10-minute presentation and touch a few of the judges’ hearts.

“Our community service project was near and dear to our hearts,” said Rodriguez. “And that’s why we were able to bring back the silver despite our setback.”

The focus of their community service project was to find a sustainable solution for the campus’ student food pantry located at the TSTC Student Center.

Preparation and research for this project began back in August, when they realized that even with donations it was difficult to keep the food pantry stocked.

“There are many obstacles in a student’s life and hunger should not be one of them,” said Juarez.

The problem of food insecurity is highlighted in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which shows that 30 percent of all college/university students in this country are going hungry.

Inspired to make a difference, the women worked closely with Student Life and The TSTC Foundation in setting up a fund, within the foundation’s Helping Hand initiative, that would be used to restock the pantry on a regular basis.

This kicked off an employee charitable campaign, with close to 200 employees participating and using a portion of their monthly paycheck to fund the pantry.

“We’ve already seen an impact and how this campaign has boosted our food volume at the pantry,” said Rodriguez. “Our goal is to continue increasing charitable participation so our students can continue to benefit from this service for years to come, even after we graduate. This is our legacy.”

Rodriguez, Juarez and Lugo said they have so many people to thank for the project’s success.

“A huge thank you goes to Larissa, our TSTC mom, motivator and mentor; TSTC administration and leadership who believed in us and supported our mission, to those employees who help keep our pantry stocked and to everyone else who took the time to help in one shape or form,” said Lugo. “This medal belongs to everyone.”

What stood out to the women the most was the support they received from TSTC’s Provost Cledia Hernandez, who took time the evening of the award ceremony to Facetime with a congratulations.

“We wish this was something we could have shared with our families. I was texting the entire time with my mom. But the feeling of support and love that night was strong from our SkillsUSA Texas delegation and TSTC family,” said Juarez. “And what meant even more was the Facetime call we received from the Provost.”

Rodriguez added, “Although we didn’t bring home the gold, we feel like we did with everyone’s support, and the fact that we were able to make a difference in our students’ lives at the same time makes us even prouder.”

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