By Pamela Ryan
TV news reports and statistics highlight the negatives — low high school graduation rates, joblessness, crime, and a weak economy. While there is much to be done to better the health of our communities, there is great cause to celebrate our youth in Washington County and the future of our communities.
Six bright young leaders from Washington County — Vanessa Mortinson, Karina Ramirez, Sandra Lopez, Jose Cazares, Milo Lopez and Nancy Vazquez — are not only achieving success at the college level, but they are setting their sights on becoming leaders in their communities.
These students are recipients of the Oregon Act Six Leadership Scholarship and they are attending or have graduated from George Fox University or Warner Pacific College on full-tuition, full-need scholarships. We believe they will have the skills, the power and the voice to change their home communities as they achieve career goals in business, law, media, medicine, and other fields.
These exceptionally talented students along with their peers from Woodburn, Portland, and east Multnomah County are making their mark as leaders.
The vision of the Act Six Initiative is to raise up young leaders from communities where the media often portray a sense of hopelessness and failure. Empowered indigenous leaders are going to be best prepared to bring hope, healing, and direction that is relevant, realistic and culturally rooted for long-lasting change.
Given the opportunity to represent George Fox University and Warner Pacific College, Act Six works to recruit and select students who best articulate a vision for their home community. We have awarded millions of dollars in scholarship awards; however, we are equally proud of the investment staff and scholars make in the six months of training and preparation we require.
Training is designed to equip and connect like-minded young leaders to encourage them to form a bond with peer Act Six scholars. Intentional relational connection increases the likelihood that young diverse leaders will persist and graduate.
National statistics, again, paint a negative picture, showing that two-thirds of students of color and first-generation college students are dropping out before completing college. What if we are making the wrong assumptions about how diverse young people persist in college? What if college were best lived-out in the context of intentional diverse community?
We have high expectations for the young scholars we work with in Washington County. This year the Nike employee-led Latino and Friends Network is working on an 8-month mentorship with eight Latino Act Six scholars. One young scholar is on the community board of Hacienda Development Corp.; another worked at Intel (and has been invited back next year); three have worked for Multnomah County. We believe these students are well prepared to take on leadership roles at work, in their homes, and in the community.
Hillsboro, Forest Grove, and Cornelius should be proud of the home-grown talent that is ready to take on leadership challenges. We call on the schools to encourage their students to apply for Act Six (www.actsix.org), and we ask the business and community leaders to create mentorship and internship opportunities designed to prepare young diverse leaders for the roles they will play in creating a vibrant future for our community.
Pamela Ryan is director of the Oregon Act Six Leadership Scholarship, a program run by the Portland Leadership Foundation (www.portlandleadership.org), a nonprofit that seeks to strengthen and develop leadership for the spiritual and social renewal of the the Portland metro area.