The National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) is honored to announce the sixth annual GEAR UP Leadership Awards, which recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals and partners in four categories: Parent, Youth, Community Partner, and Professional of the Year. The following is the description for this year’s Youth of the Year recipient.
The 2017 Youth of the Year award was awarded to Belenda Torres, a rising senior at U.S Grant High School who has demonstrated an indomitable spirit both in school and at home. Belenda has been a part of the GEAR UP for the PROMISE in Oklahoma City since 7th grade.
Belenda consistently challenges herself by taking multiple AP courses, and participating in myriad extracurricular activities, all while caring for her siblings and responsibilities at home. She demonstrated remarkable leadership by organizing various fundraisers and raising more than $4,000 through her AP Club when district funding for AP exams was uncertain due to severe budget cuts. She has also been proactive and taken advantage of the ACT prep classes GEAR UP provided and she encouraged her peers to attend as well.
Despite increased obligations at home due to financial hardships, Belenda persevered through multiple AP courses; remained involved in the Academic Club and the AP Club; served as a leader for Link Crew, a mentoring program for freshmen; was a resource to her peers academically and personally; and maintained a 4.3 GPA – the highest in her graduating class.
She leads by example through the strength of her character and her commitment to excellence. She is fiercely loyal to her family, always putting their needs before her own. Her primary purpose for excelling in school is to repay her parents for everything they have given her. Belenda is a joyful, caring person who puts others at ease with her sense of humor, genuinely cares about their struggles, and acts to help when a need exists.
Belenda is one of more than 4300 students served by the GEAR UP for the PROMISE program in the 2016-2017 school year. GEAR UP for the PROMISE is a partnership between the University of Oklahoma’s K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal and the Oklahoma City Public Schools to help high school students and their families prepare for postsecondary education.
This partnership began in September 2011 with the award of a seven-year, $2.6 million/year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to OU’s K20 Center to specifically serve students in OKCPS. Services began with the graduating classes of 2017 and 2018 when they were 6th and 7th graders and continues as the first GEAR UP cohort has graduated from high school.
Throughout the grant, services have been provided to impact all of the stakeholders involved in a student’s preparation for college. Professional development for teachers, counselors, and principals; informational sessions and leadership opportunities for parents; and academic and college-readiness programming for students are key features of the grant.
Belenda attributes her desire to pursue postsecondary education to the work of GEAR UP, and she hopes that her story will inspire others to follow their American Dream.