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Casa youth worker feels call to help others
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Photo: John Greenwood
Vicente 'Jaime' Aguilera works with youth in various ways at Casa Guanajuato in Moline.
MOLINE -- He was 12 when he told his parents he wanted to be a doctor. Vicente Aguilera did not land far from his childhood goal.

Today, at the age of 29, he tends to youth, teaching them ways to stand tall and be strong on the inside so they can shine on the outside.

He is a coordinator of cultural events and a youth advocate for Casa Guanajuato Quad Cities. He hopes his words and efforts have a lasting effect on the children, teens and even the parents he works with through various programs and one-on-one.

Mr. Aguilera encourages children and teens to be themselves, respect others, be a part of the community and develop leadership skills.

"They are my job," Mr. Aguilera said. "I can't turn around. Even if I could, I wouldn't," he said.

His journey to helping others be successful started with the goal he held after he graduated from high school in Mexico. Mr. Aguilera went to college, pursuing a special education degree to assist people with speech impairments. He wasn't able to finish his course of study -- but wants to some day -- and moved to live with a relative in Moline.

He started working at Tyson Fresh Meats in Joslin. While there, he began translating for coworkers and managers. Mr. Aguilera said doing so made him realize how much he liked helping others.

Soon, he was volunteering to take people who did not speak English to doctor appointments when he wasn't working. Mr. Aguilera said he valued the trust people placed in him, as they were allowing him into some of the most personal aspects of their lives.

Mr. Aguilera quit his job at Tyson in 2008. While taking some time to decide his next step, he began volunteering at the University of Illinois Extension Service.

Mr. Aguilera said he had seen others step forward and give freely of their time and themselves because they felt it was the right thing to do. He said he felt a responsibility to do the same, to hold out his arms and see what he could carry to, and for, others. "I felt the same responsibility because this world belongs to me, too," he said.

At the extension service, Mr. Aguilera said he did whatever was asked of him. Then one day, the extension director at that time, Michael Woods (now the executive director of Casa), asked Mr. Aguilera if he wanted to be involved in a new Hispanic outreach program.

"He told me all I needed was commitment and passion. If I had those two things, I would like what I was doing," said Mr. Aguilera. "I said yes, and I started working for him part time."

The extension service was reorganized throughout the state and Mr. Aguilera's position was eliminated in January 2011, 18 months after he started working in the outreach program. He didn't sit still for long. He heard of the opening at Casa and applied.

Today he works with the youth, offering hands-on programs that encourage them to be successful. He also keeps the parents involved so they can be a part of their child's success, too, he said.

Mr. Aguilera has led youth in creating mosaic trash can planters, gardening and cooking a meal with the harvest.

Mr. Aguilera said it is important to allow youth to use their hands. Then, when the project is complete, they can step back and see what they can create and have accomplished. "They can feel that success," Mr. Aguilera said, "and they can say, 'Oh, that is mine.' "

Parents are asked not to drop off their children and teens at Casa for a program and leave, but to stay, he said. "Whenever they put hands on something and work together, the parents and the children share the pride and come together and work as a family," Mr. Aguilera said, adding parents also get to see their children interact with others in an environment away from the home. That, too, allows parents to learn more about their child, he said.

Mr. Aguilera said his parents taught him how to handle problems, how to communicate and deal with anger. He works to share those skills with the youth involved in Casa programs.

Mr. Aguilera said he feels appreciated when he watches a youth he spoke to about kindness treat another child with respect. He said he feels appreciated when he overhears a child repeat a lesson he shared with that youth to his or her peer. "It shows I am doing my job correctly," he said.

Money could not replace the satisfaction he finds in his job, he said. "It makes me feel good and is why I continue to do what I am doing."

"I do not see myself in a job where I am not helping. I think everyone who works in social service at one point wants a break. I am not there yet. I can't see myself not connected to my community."





Changing the dream

Who: Vicente Aguilera, youth advocate for Casa Guanajuato Quad Cities

Quote: "I do not see myself in a job where I am not helping. ... I can't see myself not connected to my community."




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  Today is Wednesday, April 23, the 113th day of 2014. There are 252 days left in the year.

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1889 — 125 years ago: The Central station, car house and stables of the Moline-Rock Island Horse Railway line of the Holmes syndicate, together with 15 cars and 42 head of horses, were destroyed by fire. The loss was at $15,000.
1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.




(More History)