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Heart Spotlight: Lisa Delao

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 ( Phoenix aims to aid the residents of the Richmond City “Justice Ce” 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


Heart Spotlight: André Mons Ybañez

André Mons Ybañez juggles a lot. A testament to his diligence and his compassion for the community, Andre is currently a full time student at UMBC pursuing his Masters in Social Work while simultaneously employed in the Prince George’s County Workforce Program at the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers. He currently works with 11th and 12 grade students in assisting them to graduate high school, assisting with the college enrollment process, providing job readiness training and professional development. In addition to these services, he also performs the case management that is necessary to ensure that their other needs are met and the they have a better transition into adulthood. In 2009, Andre was also a former Heart Award Recipient where he did a peace walk with the goal of promoting a message of non-violence in the community following the murder of a well-known and loved youth named Tai Lam. We recently caught up with Andre to learn more about him and his advice for Heart Award recipients:

What is one of your future aspirations?
One of my biggest aspirations is to become a high school counselor and be able to assist the students that are in need of support that may not get any other kind of support in their lives; Some may get the message that they will not succeed in life even from school staff, which can be something that can encourage their decisions to drop out of school and not aspire to anything due to the fact that the negative thoughts and opinions of them have been internalized and has caused sufficient psychological and/or emotional damage.

Who inspires you?

The person that inspires me is my very first mentor, Sandra D. Shepherd. Before joining her program after school, I was not allowed to do anything that did not involve school and home. Although I was not a “bad student”, had I not joined her program, I would have remained stagnant; not knowing what to do in life, not being confident of my skills to face the real world, and not having any aspirations in life. Sandra always motivated me and pushed me to be the best that I can be. She believed in me when no one else did and when I needed the most motivation in life. When no one was having the discussion about college and my future, she made it seem mandatory and assisted me with the process. After my first year of college, she offered me a position in her AmeriCorps program as soon as it was introduced to the office. She coached me and gave me the opportunity that I never thought I would be good enough for: a leadership role. I was one of the two full time AmeriCorps members for two years in a row and then I was offered the position I am in today. She has also been instrumental in me continuing my studies by always giving me advice in terms of school and personal matters.

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

I would say that they should never doubt themselves and be very open minded. When you doubt yourself, you limit what you are capable of; the same goes for being close minded. You cannot envision great things if you don’t allow for those ideas to have the capacity to grow and develop. By limiting those opportunities, you are not only hindering yourself, but you are also hindering those who could benefit from those ideas.

Fun Facts:
Favorite Food: Barbecue Ribs
Favorite Musical Artist: Daddy Yankee and Christina Aguilera
Ideal Place to Travel: Cuba
A Celebrity You’d Love to Meet: Sean “Diddy” Combs

Want to impact your community like Andre? Be sure to apply for an IGH Grant by December 5th! Email for any questions or inquiries regarding Heart Awards.


Dream Act

Montgomery County high school student and her peers create a documentary to mobilize the community to support the Dream Act.

Jay Choi Heart Award

Students at Wootton High School in Maryland were awarded with a Heart Award to support their efforts to build a sustainable garden at their school, and educate students about the value of protecting the environment.


STARS Book Drive

Members of STARS, the latest Heart Award recipients, hosted a book drive at Books a Million and collected over 200 brand new books to donate to cancer patients at Johns Hopkins Childrens’ Hospital.


STARS Interviews

An I Got Heart board member visits with STARS students to hear their stories, count the books they obtained through the book drive (over 230!), and present them with a $500 check that they will be donating to cancer patients at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center:

Some quotes from the students while collecting books and giving them to the patients at Johns Hopkins:

“This was an event that makes you appreciate life.” – Donald

“Looking at the faces of not only the children, but also the parents really provided a reality uplift.” – Joseph

“This shows that the world still has heart and cares.” – Sabrina

“A lot of people need help and we can do little things to help others.” – Jessica

“It was a special moment to see the children, it moved me to tears.  Despite what they (the patient) are going through, they still have hope.” – Jasmine

They can’t keep a straight face for pictures … :)

Here we go … with some of their hard-earned books for cancer patients!

And the check they received from I Got Heart to be donated to the cancer patients.

Stay tuned to videos from the interviews to hear about their stories and how meaningful this project is for them.


Dreams for Kids

I Got Heart presents at Dreams for Kids’ Dream Leaders Conference in June 2010.

I Got Heart board members talked to the participants about what Heart means, the challenges they face in their communities, ideas for solutions, and how I Got Heart can fund their solutions to turn them into reality.

Dream Leaders participants during a workshop.

Participants during IGH presentation

Youth sharing their story with IGH board member

Talking about a music concert for youth they could host through a Heart Award

Students picking out I Got Heart shirts for their participation 

With their new shirts :)