Lisa Delao is a student who doesn’t believe in limits. In addition to her studies at VCU as a double major in English and Spanish, she works for a nonprofit called the Outreach Involvement Center as an English teacher/tutor for their alternative to suspension program. In this program, she assists students who have been suspended from their schools can register for this program in order to not fall behind in school. She is also a part of Phoenix: a student organization that has partnered with the already existing school program, Open Minds (http://www.openminds.vcu.edu/). Phoenix aims to aid the residents of the Richmond City “Justice Cehttp://heartawards.org/wp-admin/post-new.phpnter” through GED tutoring, sponsoring donation drives as the residents have little to no supplies; She lets these people know that they are not forgotten about nor do we look at them as monsters that should be crammed into inhumane cages. Open Minds focused on creative expression through the Arts, but due to the “Justice Center”‘s changes to the education program all programs must be related to either the GED or recovery (recovery because the men and women who are involved in these programs come from the sections of substance related abuse that may or may not be related to their crime).

Her IGH project involved her high school’s literary arts magazine, Eddas. As her school was in jeopardy of not being able to publish the magazine, Lisa took action. She believed that magazine was critical as an advocate for creative expression. Creative expression is taken away from those incarcerated. She aims to help people find their voice, their solace by channeling sufferings, burdens, visions into something beautiful that they created. We recently caught up with Lisa to get her thoughts and stories on more:

What is one of my future aspirations?

I am really hoping to study abroad in Chile this summer. I was accepted into a program last summer, but the funding came up short. I’m determined to apply to more scholarships this time, so hopefully that will make the difference.

A long term aspiration that I must continually work on is to one day be published in a major (I’d even be fine with minor) literary magazine, or get a whole book (of essays, poems, or both) published. It’s the pipe dream I think everyone should have, kinda like becoming the next Olympic gold medalist or President of the United States.

Who inspires me?

I think the obvious, though no less true, answers would be my parents. They both work two jobs, long hours, sometimes weekend and overnight shifts. My dad taught himself English through casette tapes. My mom taught herself how to read in Spanish, even with literally no previous school education. They’re amazing. Then, I would say my deceased friend, Ryan Groome. He was that kind of person you could talk to for just a moment and say, “Wow, what a big heart.” His kindness has been the most inspiring.

Outside of the people I know there are literary inspirations: Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, Hunter S. Thompson, and David Foster Wallace.

What is one piece of advice I have for those applying for an IGH grant or those simply looking to impact their community?

Okay, I think the only way I can think of some advice is through steps. One, look inside yourself. You have to figure out what sets you on fire, what inspires you, what you’re passionate about. This can’t always be done alone. Go to a community service fair, or ask your school, a teacher, some friends, or even the internet for a list of community organizations just to get an idea about what interests you. Two, once you find it, and you’ll know you’ve found it because your mind and spirit will keep pushing you to pursue this interest, then pursue it fully. Do not bog yourself down with negative energy, such as, “This isn’t really impacting my community”, “I’m not making a difference even though I’m putting in all this work”, things of this nature will hold you back from doing even more; you’ve got to believe that the steps you’re taking are actually leaps and bounds, because though there are many people devoted to helping their communities there can always be more. You may be one, but you work for many. Appreciate yourself for wanting to invest in your community, and know that your community appreciates you for it, even if sometimes that appreciation isn’t shown.

Man, I don’t know if any of that makes sense or is in any way motivational, but I really hope it is!

Fun Facts:

Favorite Food: Salvadorian Food (cheese pupusas or tamales de elote) or Thai Food (not too spicy pad thai or drunken noodles, also not too spicy)

Favorite Musical Artist: If you had asked me any other time in my life I would have vehemently said The Cure, but currently my soul is being shaken by La Dispute.

Ideal Place To Travel: I’m hoping to explore Chile this summer, maybe even Peru as well.

A Celebrity You’d Love to Meet: Most of the celebrities I would truthfully love to see are all dead: Pablo Neruda, or maybe Aldous Huxley