From a young age, Alena was always told by her mother that there was no limit to what she wanted to do. One of Alena’s first experiences that marked her path to self-discovery was in 6th grade when she ran for a local pageant and won Miss Tohono O’odham Nation Royalty. She loved that through this opportunity she could represent who she was and where she was from.
When she first joined Tohono O’odham JAG in her junior year, she was facing personal challenges. Her technology teacher was also a JAG Coordinator and encouraged her to join JAG for more opportunities to come out of her shell.
While in JAG, Alena helped her JAG peers plan events such as JAG-A-Palooza and the Initiation & Installation Ceremony and participated in competitions and workshops at the Career Development Conference. In her senior year, she decided to run for Vice President of her program and the University of Phoenix and JAG LEADS program, both of which would allow her to lead projects in and out of the classroom and have more opportunities to travel to statewide and national JAG events.
Both of these leadership roles helped her come out of her shell and become comfortable with speaking publicly. Her senior year wasn’t without challenges, and she benefitted from having her coordinators by her side.
“Mr. Gonzales is very motivating. When I didn’t want to do something, he pushed me to try it anyway. Monica [another teacher on campus] has been there with me through it all from the beginning since I joined JAG. She has taken care of me and been there for me. She was always there to help with events too. We didn’t even have to ask—she just helped. As long as she was with the kids—the students, that’s all that mattered to her, and I think that was really heart-warming.”
Through the LEADS program, Alena met with her fellow student leaders and advisor frequently to practice public speaking and team-building skills and meet mentors that helped guide them through their goals. Alena also had opportunities to travel to Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Florida to participate in leadership development conferences, network with business and state leaders, and make new friends along the way. She even placed 3rd Place in a Knowledge Bowl competition with two of her fellow LEADS at the National Career Development Conference (NCDC) in Orlando.
She had always wanted to travel outside of Arizona, so JAG’s National Student Leadership Academy and NCDC helped her achieve that goal. As a Tohono O’odham JAG representative at these events, she also could follow her passion for representing Tohono O’odham Nation much like she did in the local pageants she had participated in.
“When I met new people in Washington and Florida, it made me feel like someone like me can belong and do things. Just being out of my shell helped me feel better about myself and like I can do something with myself.”
Through LEADS and her JAG Coordinator, Alena also learned more about career paths that aligned with her interests and skills. Her JAG Coordinator helped her build resumes to apply for positions in childcare, nursing homes, and a local grocery store. One of her ultimate career goals is to become a children’s counselor.
“I think I can do everything and anything. There is really no limit to a dream. With the children counseling work, I think that being there for the kids now will help them when they’re older or help with a better understanding of who they are and their life.”
Alena graduated from Tohono O’odham High School in May and plans to use her newfound free time to pick up running again, spend time with family, and apply for jobs. Looking back on her JAG journey, she is happy that she achieved the goals that she had set for herself when she first joined JAG.
When asked “What are you most proud of?,” she responded with a smile and confidently replied, “I’m most proud of myself. I think I came a long way, and JAG really opened my eyes. It really helped because I was going through a personal problem and when I went on the trips, especially to Florida—it helped. Those trips made me want to have a career because I saw all those workers and students at the events. It really pushed me to want to do something with my life.”