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Nicholas Torres

Nick Torres is a quintessential community leader; his success is based on finding a balance between being practical while remaining an idealist. As the president of the Congreso de Latinos Unidos, the Congress of United Latinos, he has expanded the scope of social services to the growing Hispanic community in the city. Access to education is at the core of his beliefs and he can track that commitment to his own upbringing.

I believe that every young person has a dream and will work to achieve it.

I believe that if we create an environment of support, encouragement,high expectations, and doing "with" and not "for" we can fulfill the aspirations of our young people.

Look at me, I never had a college savings account but I was expected to go to college. I understood that doing well in school was an expectation because it promised entrance to college and the potential for scholarships. I worked hard since I was 12 years old and never considered it a sacrifice because it developed in me a strong work ethic that guaranteed me a future. I understood this because it was expected and encouraged by my family and believe me, it was never an easy journey.

I don't have to look back too far to realize that I am who I am because of the people and culture that surrounded me. I remember sitting through lively family meetings in which I had to hold my tongue because it wasn't my turn to speak. When frustrated, I always wanted to run out of the room but my family expected that I stayed until a compromise could be reached. Today, I always try to listen first and put myself in the other person's shoes.

I learned that honesty, respect, and hard work were the ingredients to be good citizens. I grew up cutting weeds, cutting firewood, cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning house. I worked as a paper boy, store clerk, lifeguard, and computer technician. When I wasn't in school, studying or playing sports I always seemed to be working.

I learned through these experiences about honesty and respect. My reward was more responsibility and authority. My two daughters will see me cutting our grass, cleaning our home, and taking pride in my surroundings because I understand that the lessons of life come from those closest to us.

That also applies to schools, I believe that if we create schools with high expectations and provide a positive, nurturing, and safe environment then we will attract quality teachers and quality education will follow.

As a student I was warned about certain professors because they were tough. I quickly learned that these professors were the best teachers because they cared. They created an environment where thinking, analyzing, questioning, and contributing new ideas was expected. I am a person who won't accept the status quo and will always challenge an idea or system because my teachers and professors trained my mind to be an independent thinker.

I believe that we need to remind ourselves of who we are by taking lessons from our young people. I often talk with young people about their lives. They remind me that skin color is just a color and not a judgment of character; being happy is not about possessions it's about being surrounded by people who care. I talk with them to learn about all the ways to make the world a better place. I believe I am a leader because our young people tell me that building bridges is better than building walls, creating partnerships is done through dialog and compromise, and through helping others we help ourselves.