Mary Luna is the sort of young woman who gives you hope for the future. On top of going to school full time, and working as a cashier in a restaurant to help her family save money for college, Mary also volunteers as a tutor at an elementary school. She’s determined not only to achieve her personal goals of attending college, then law school and someday starting her own law firm, she’s also deeply committed to helping those around her. For the past three years Mary has been involved in El Centro Hispano’s Youth programming in Durham, North Carolina. El Centro Hispano, a Triangle for Latino Student Success HIP grantee, is an organization dedicated to strengthening the Hispanic/Latino community in Durham, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and North Carolina’s surrounding areas.
When Mary and her sister arrived in the United States from Mexico seven years ago she was sure she didn’t fit in. In the first few months she felt isolated, as though this was not the right place for her, and she longed to return to Mexico. It was a difficult time, but Mary decided the best way to adjust to her new life would be to get involved with a club, and a brief search led her to El Centro Hispano. “The people there inspired me,” she said, “they saw my potential and they believed in me.” Through the El Centro Hispano Youth Program Mary has learned leadership, organization, and public speaking skills. Last summer she had the opportunity to work on an alcohol campaign that focused on preventing underage drinking. This project in particular, “helped me become a leader,” Mary states. In order to launch the campaign in a meaningful and effective way Mary was tasked with developing a plan that included how best to manage and allocate the resources available for the project. This sort of skills building and leadership training is invaluable for any young woman, especially one with big goals like Mary.
In addition to leadership and communications training, El Centro Hispano’s Youth Program is also committed to helping students navigate college. Prior to getting involved with El Centro Hispano Mary, “did not know about the SAT, the ACT, or how important grades are,” she says, “they helped me get my education straight and focused.” Mary is currently attending Middle College High School at Durham Technical Community College. Middle College is a highly competitive school for juniors and seniors that offers its students the opportunity to graduate from 12th grade with not only a high school diploma, but also an associate’s degree. Mary is working to graduate with both degrees with the goal of transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she plans to pursue a major in Business Administration and a minor in Spanish. Of course, she won’t be stopping there. Mary is also already thinking about law school where she would like to focus on immigration or criminal law with the goal of starting her own law firm to work with the Hispanic community on immigration issues.
Mary Luna is setting an example for other students like her. When she’s not working or going to school she tutors elementary school kids on a volunteer basis. Volunteering has always been important to her, and she looks forward to the afternoons when she can sit down and teach math to second and third graders. No matter what she does next, UNC, law school, something she hasn’t even considered yet, Mary’s commitment to the Hispanic community and her drive to make a genuine difference has set the entire world at her fingertips.