For most of her high school career, Gulliver Prep senior Cristina Valencia volunteered at Miami Children’s Hospital.
“In my freshman year, I realized after meeting with a counselor that I didn’t have any special activities I could put on my college resume, so I talked to my mom about it,” Valencia says.
Her mother suggested working at Miami Children’s Hospital for her community service.
“When I went to orientation, we signed up and they gave us a job,” she says. “I fell in love with working there.”
She went to the hospital often after school and twice a week during the summers. She spent much of her time at the Michael Fuchs Family Center, the facility for the parents and family members of children who are patients in the hospital.
“It has a washer and dryer and a kitchen and they can bring their food,” Valencia says. “It even has a spa. They allowed children and their sisters and brothers to get free haircuts. The people who give haircuts are stylists who are volunteers. We also have activities, which I’m in charge of.”
Valencia says they would figure out activities for children between six and 12.
“A lot of brothers and sisters would enjoy the activities,” she says.
The activities would affect the children in many ways.
“I would see girls crying because they had not been exposed to another girl the same age because they have been at the hospital all this time,” she says.
The parents were grateful for the kindness and attention given to their children and the children would often tell Valencia that “you are my best friend.”
At school, Valencia is the secretary of the Gulliver Best Buddies chapter. Her buddy is Max, who is a year younger than she is.
“I call him at least once a week,” she says. “We go to the movies or go to Game Time. I have this one-on-one friendship. He has really opened my eyes to why you have to be happy. He has such a positive outlook on everything. That’s changed my perspective on many things. I love spending time with Max.”
Valencia says she loves the club and what it stands for.
“It’s bringing light to the fact that we have intellectually disabled people in our community, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friends with them,” she says.
Valencia is the editor-in-chief of the Gulliver Prep yearbook. She joined the staff in 10th grade. “I’m more focused on the writing and working with my design editor on the template,” she says. “I wrote about it recently for my college essay. You need to be on your toes. You always need to be inspired to add little textures for your templates. I have a wonderful staff.”
She is also a part of a new club called Link Leaders.
“What we do is help new students and incoming freshmen with their transition,” she says.
The club matches up seven freshmen and one transfer student with two Link Leaders The new students have a friendly face in the hallways they can wave to as they go or they can stop them and ask questions.
“We have kids from out of the country,” she says. “Transitioning into high school is difficult. I would have loved to have had one my freshman year. I only knew my incoming class.”
Next year, Valencia will be the one wishing for a Link Leader when she begins college. She has applied to Wake Forest, the University of Miami, Boston College and the University of North Carolina. She plans to study mass communications.
— By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld