Nineteen-year-old Melanie Delgado recently returned from a semester working with HIV and AIDS patients in a slum in Kenya.
The American University student has worked as a volunteer, intern and now is an employee at the National Institutes of Health. Someday, she hopes to open a medical clinic in a low-income Hispanic neighborhood.
It’s not much of a stretch to believe she’ll achieve that goal. Not only is Melanie a star student at the Washington, D.C., university, she’s also in an accelerated, three-year public health program and on track to graduate by the time she’s 20. And along with all of that, she has a heart for volunteer work.
A Silver Springs, Maryland, native, she credits the Latino Student Fund with instilling in her the calling to give back. The nonprofit serves the young Latino population in D.C. to help them get into college. So far, those involved in the program have had a 100 percent high school graduation rate and 100 percent college acceptance rate.
“I started out as a student receiving tutoring on Saturdays at 9 a.m.,” Melanie said. “I struggled with English and reading comprehension and was paired with a tutor. I got to know my tutor on a very personal basis.”
Getting to know her tutor changed her perspective and made her want to give back. She began providing filing services at the organization to help out. Eventually she became an administrative assistant and graduated to the position of tutor.
Melanie loves to talk about volunteering, and clearly out of no desire to toot her own horn. There’s a joy in her voice when she speaks about the various activities she’s participated in throughout the years.
After helping with programs at the Latino Student Fund, Melanie began to look for more ways to reach the D.C. area. She found the Next Step Public Charter School.
Next Step Public Charter school focuses on D.C. residents who want to do everything from finish their G.E.D. to learn English. Most of the students Melanie volunteers with there are hardworking immigrants from South America. Melanie creates lesson plans in Spanish to help reach the Latino population as they pursue the American Dream.
“I may not be an immigrant, but I’ve told them how I’ve overcome hardships academically,” Melanie said. “Why not give back to my community?”
Melanie’s desire to give back centers on the needy Latino community. She knows the pressure Latino students feel to start work as soon as possible, and she wants them to know that college is possible, that they can achieve their loftiest goals.
“A lot of the Latino community question themselves: Is it important to go to college? Or should I get a job? The Latino Student Fund showed me that Hispanics have the resources to go to college.”
Melanie’s work ethic stems from her parents, who both emigrated from Peru to the U.S. determined to find greater opportunities. Her father, who owns his own painting and construction company, along with her mother, who helps with secretarial and outreach work for the company, have sacrificed for years to allow their daughter to have more than they were given. Melanie wants to honor her parents’ determination.
“They don’t want me to go through the same hardships they went through,” she said. “They always wanted me to complete the American dream. I think I’m on that path.”
At the rate she’s working, her hope of opening a clinic in a low-income Hispanic neighborhood seems more than a pipe dream. Regardless, one thing is for sure.
“Volunteering,” she said, “is never going to disappear from my daily routine.”