Amazing Tampa Bay Teen-Irvin Ortega

10 Jul

We were blessed with an opportunity to pick the brains of some of TampaBay’s most talented and influential teens.  We will feature their stories over the coming weeks and hope that you enjoy learning of their accomplishments as much as we did.

Ten community-minded high school students from the Tampa Bay area were chosen to receive a paid eight-week summer internship at Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay, Boys and Girls Club of the Suncoast and the StrazCenter for Performing Arts as part of the 2013 Student Leaders program, a national initiative by Bank of America to provide young people with the opportunity to earn and learn while working at a non-profit that meets the needs of the community.

The students chosen for the program in the TampaBay area form a diverse group. They’ve overcome numerous obstacles and are now recognized among their peers, educators and family as leaders. Some have even started non-profits that help make a difference.  All ten students have either graduated from high school this year or will be entering their senior year this fall. They began interning throughout the TampaBay area this week.

Irvin OrtegaOur second amazing teen is Irvin Ortega from Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg.  Irvin’s personal struggle with reading as a child inspired him to help children with literacy. Serving as a volunteer leader for the Clearwater Countryside Library’s summer reading program gave him the opportunity to create the Countryside Players, a group of teenagers who volunteered to put on educational plays and programs for children. Irvin will be interning at the Straz Center for Performing Arts.



At what age, did you really decide to become successful and go above and beyond?  What did that mean for you?  What did the plan look like?

I don’t think there was a set age or defining moment that I decided I wanted to be successful- it just sort of happened. For as long as I can remember I always gave my 110% percent- of course when I was younger it was making the best Lego buildings and coloring in the coloring pages as elaborately as possible until it met my standards. I never did anything half way and that just grew with me.


What activities did you do to avoid becoming stressed out and ready to give up?

I have multiple avenues of stress relief and music is almost always involved in some form or another. When I need a break from a stressful project or situation I grab my iPod and go on a long bike ride! There’s something therapeutic about the wind in my face and touring the beautiful Florida scenery. When I can’t go on a bike ride or get outside I turn to writing. I feel like that writing is one of the most basic yet beautifully complex forms of expressions out there. Typically I practice a form of free verse poetry. With writing, I can manipulate my emotions to whatever I put on paper.


What is the best advice your parents ever gave you?

My parents always instilled in me to be thankful and show gratitude to those who help you. It sounds so very basic but if you take a moment and think about it; how often to do thank those around you for what they’ve done? I believe positive affirmations and the expression of gratitude has helped me become a better person and also helped me strengthen the relationships around me.


What qualities of leadership came naturally to you?  Which were hardest to learn?

Organization and delegation of tasks comes very naturally to me. For as long as I can remember- no matter the situation I always prioritized well. Whether I am putting together a project, presentation, play, or other event I know what needs to get done and the order and manner of doing so. Delegating goes hand in hand with that- when working on a project I look at people strengths and maximize them.  The hardest thing to overcome in my leadership is learning to effectively lead without being degrading. In the past I found myself talking down to others and not effectively communicating my needs. It’s something I constantly work to improve upon.


How would you change the current high school curriculum to better challenge and motivate our freshmen?

I feel that education needs to be updated. Today’s generation of youth are looking for value. If they do not see the value in something they will not take it seriously. I believe schools need to enhance their curriculum by teaching practice information and showing the value of it. There are so many practical survival skills I never learned in high school and it’s a serious issue. There’s a problem with the system when 18 year olds are graduating high school without knowledge of how to open a bank account, how to effectively manage money, how taxes work, or how to manage a checkbook. I strongly believe that if high school curriculum’s prepared students for real life then everyone not only freshmen would be motivated to learn.


What did you do differently than your peers?

Everything! I was always the “odd” one you could say. I pride myself in my ability to think outside of the box and take risks. While many of my peers stuck to the tradition ways of doing things I always challenged the system. I was always looking for new methods and strategies of doing things. At times I may have been unorthodox and even bizarre but I firmly believe taking risks and leaving your comfort zone is essential to change. I attribute a large amount of my success to try mind’s curiosity.


Where will next year find you?

Next year will find me in whole new environment and setting! In the fall I’ll be starting school at Pace University in New York City as a Directing and Arts and Entertainment Management major. By this time next year I hope to be more knowledgeable about my field of study and the world around me.irvin ortega with boa


Would could your parents have done differently to make it easier for you to excel?  What did they do well?

I don’t think my parents could have done anything differently. There is only so much they can do; my success is determined by me. And even if they could have done more I wouldn’t have wanted them to. I want my achievements to be my achievements- I don’t want to gain something because I had my parents get it for me. When I am successful in something it means so much more to know that my hard work that got me there. What parents did do well was being supportive. No matter how crazy the project my parents always showed their love and support. I think it speaks volumes about my parent’s support for their children when they support my artistic endeavors and they have no knowledge of the arts. My parents were not afraid to jump into the unknown to support me.


Is there any particular issue/concern that you’d like to change in Tampa Bay right now?  How would you do it?

It varies by neighborhood and area but overall my biggest concern with the Tampa Bay area would be discrimination and social issues. In many areas of the Bay there is a major disconnect between the races, the nationalities, the religions, the sexuality’s, and the classes. I believe the root of discrimination is ignorance- not malicious ignorance but a genuine lack of knowledge about others. Breaking down barriers and stereotypes starts in the places you spend the most time- schools and the workplace. I firmly believe it would be beneficial to the Bay area to implement and encourage workshops on diversity and team building within schools and the workplace.


What adversity did you face [if any] that seemed to big to overcome?  How did you manage to get through it?

I consider myself a “double minority” being both a first generation Latino American and also being openly gay. Either of those two things alone are considered by many to be a “handicap” and for a while I thought the same thing. At one time I felt as if I was not going to be treated equally as a racial minority and that I was not going to be respected as a sexual minority. What got me through my doubts and struggles was my community and family. Being surrounded by community that accepted and supported me helped me overcome my own personal struggle. Without my friends, family, and mentors who encourage me along the way I wouldn’t be where I am today.


How did you keep your eyes on the “prize” while avoiding the pressures of growing up?  [dating, just say no, etc]

My ability to avoid peer pressure stems from my values. I take pride in my work and that’s what motivates me. I will never let anything get in the way of my professional endeavors. I value myself too much to let anything cloud my future.


How would you motivate another student that may be in trouble, to see that all the hard work is worth it?

I would just share my story. I would show them how I defied the odds despite my circumstances and restraints. I would tell them about all the times I was in a similar mindset and how in the end things worked out for the best. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.  I would tell this student that there is a lesson to be found everywhere; you’ll know when you’ve learned your lesson from this experience.


 This is what Irvin’s mom, Reina Carbajal, said about her blessed life with Irvin.

At what age, did you notice the drive to succeed become prevalent in your child’s life?  How did you foster that?

When Irvin was in middle school and he started volunteering I noticed his drive to be successful. It wasn’t just one thing his drive extended to multiple volunteer projects and areas. I always supported Irvin in whatever he wanted to do, I also encouraged him to work hard.


What did you sacrifice along the way in order to assist your child(ren)?

Sleep for one thing! But I feel as though when you support children nothing is a sacrifice because I know my child is doing something good for the community and I am helping him be successful in life.


Would you consider yourselves overprotective or lenient?  Did your child’s [extraordinary] nature affect the way you raised them?

I don’t think I was overprotective; I always gave my children freedom because they proved that they were responsible enough to handle it. I also made sure they know they were responsible for their actions.


What did you do differently from other parents when raising these amazing teens?

I gave my children space. I allowed them to pick what their interests and passions were. I also supported them not matter what they picked. Even if I didn’t know a lot about their interests I educated myself and supported them in it.


How can parents make a difference in the schools that would better help their children succeed?

Parents can make a difference by making their voices heard. Nothing changes and nothing gets done if you are quiet. Parents have the power to help children succeed if they speak up.


A very special thank you to Irvin for sharing your story with us.  We feel blessed to have been put in your path and know that God has great things in store for you.  You have made Tampa Bay very proud!

A very special thank you to Salter Mitchell for extending us the opportunity to interview these phenomenal teens.  They totally rock!

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