Honors student juggles motherhood with leadeship
It’s almost noon when Desirae Soto wanders into the conference room at Sierra High School.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says with a half-yawn, half-sigh. “Things at the doctor’s office took longer than expected.”
At first glance, Soto appears a typical 17-year-old, with her faded denim overalls and shiny black ponytail.
But for this teenager, life became a little more complicated when her son Jakeem was born last year.
As a teen mom, the high school junior quickly had to assume the role of mother and financial provider, trading in her carefree social life for diaper-duty and often, desolation.
On the morning of her interview, she’s already exhausted after schlepping a sick infant to and from the pediatrician’s office, which forced the honors student to miss two classes and fall behind in her work.
Yet, despite the challenges of motherhood, Soto refuses to let it break her spirit.
“I didn’t want this life, but it’s what I got, and I’m going to make the most of it,” she says. “I just try and do my best every day because if you do your best, it pays off.”
It’s because of that kind of resilience, optimism and strength that Soto was recently chosen to participate in this year’s Rotary Districts 5180 and 5190 Youth Leadership Awards Camp.
After an intensive interview selection process, Soto was one of three high school juniors chosen out of the 11 who applied from the district to join more than 100 students for the week-long camp at Granlibakken Resort . The camp runs June 16-21.
Through a series of discussions, inspirational addresses, leadership and character building activities, the camp aims to enhance self-esteem and create future leaders.
“The reason the camp is for students who’ve just completed their junior year is that we hope these students will go back for their senior year and utilize the skills we’ve given them, as well as pass those skills along to other students,” said Jim Dill, Noon Rotary member in charge of the board of director’s “Young Generations” programs.
Dill, a member of the five-person Rotary panel that selected Soto, said he was most impressed with Soto’s dedication and determination.
“She’s a person who knows what she wants and is working very hard to achieve those goals,” Dill said. “She’s also taken it upon herself to education others so that they don’t have to experience the same hardships that she has.”
For the past year Soto has been spearheading a service learning project to educate students and parents about teenage pregnancy. In addition to speaking at the middle schools, she has also organized parent focus nights.
She says a key cause of teen pregnancy is parents no communicating with their children about sex.
“Many parents are so closed-minded that they think just talking to their kids about sex and birth control will lead them to be promiscuous, but that’s not true,” she said. “Parents have a lot of influence over the kids and they also have a responsibility to talk to them about this. I wish my parents had talked to me.”
While Soto acknowledges that her frank approach to the subject is often unpopular with parents, she vows to continue speaking her mind.
“It’s awful to keep seeing young girls get pregnant,” she said. “I just have to do something about it.”
Her character and dedication to educating others also impress Soto’s teachers.
“Desirae is an outstanding student and role model, and we feel very lucky to have her here,” said Sierra High Principal Jane Loomis.
Soto’s teachers volunteered to babysit for her so she could go to the leadership camp.
“She’s never had an opportunity to be young, and she deserves every break she can get. She’s really a dynamic human being,” Loomis said.
Soto hopes her big break will come next year when she applies to the University of Nevada in Reno to pursue a career in medicine.
“It would bring me so much satisfaction to go to college and become a doctor,” she said. “I know it’s not going to be easy, but I don’t want to give up. Sure, there’s always people there that are telling me I won’t be able to do it, but that almost makes me want to succeed even more. I’ve got to make a better life for myself and for my son.”
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