Summit High School Mountain Dreamers group wins Outstanding Youth philanthropy award |

Summit High School Mountain Dreamers group wins Outstanding Youth philanthropy award

The Summit High School Mountain Dreamers, from left to right: Maria Payan, Manuel Lopez, Jessica Fernandez de la O, Emily Yaritza Lopez, Crystal Martinez-Lopez.
Courtesy Summit Foundation

FRISCO — The Summit High School Mountain Dreamers are one of the newest advocacy groups in the county, but the small collection of Summit High seniors has already made a splash among the student body and greater Summit County community.

The group, an offshoot of the recently formed Mountain Dreamers, came together at the beginning of the school year hoping to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for students of color at the high school, in addition to helping to educate the student body about issues surrounding the area’s immigrant community.

“We started taking about it last year in April,” said Emily Yaritza Lopez, one of the groups founding members. “We were talking about how we didn’t really have a group or a club in school that we could really say was for everybody — where everybody felt comfortable, and that would include DACA recipients as well. We decided it would be great to start a club before we graduated, and see where that took us.”

For the group and its five charter members, things have taken off even faster than expected. The Summit Foundation recently named the SHS Mountain Dreamers their selection for Outstanding Youth for the 2019 Philanthropy Award. While certainly a surprise, the group has already made impressive strides in their goals of growing inclusivity and awareness of important issues.

On Nov. 12, the SHS Mountain Dreamers lead a silent protest at Summit High School to help educate fellow students about issues facing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, namely a recent push by the Trump administration to terminate the program, which currently protects about 700,000 young immigrants called “Dreamers” from deportation.

The students stood silent for the entire day in an act of solidarity with DACA recipients around the county, who the group says has been silenced by the current administration. They also provided information and handed out orange ribbons to other students looking to show their support for the protest.

 “It’s something tough to go through, especially in your teen years,” said Jessica Fernandez de la O, a DACA recipient. “You think high school is supposed to be a breeze, and you’re supposed to be focusing on classes. But you’re dealing with a lot of other things as well. Knowing your future is at stake when you’ve been preparing for the past four years is something really difficult. And we thought why not make people aware of the situation.

“The five of us were silent on Tuesday from the beginning of the school day until the end to represent how the government would be silencing our voices. We were silent for those who wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak up. It was the perfect opportunity to educate people.”

The Summit High School Mountain Dreamers perform a silent protest to raise awareness of ongoing efforts to terminate the DACA program.

The group said the reaction from the rest of the school was largely positive, with other students showing considerable interest and support in their message. Though, spreading awareness of immigration issues was only part of the group’s ambitions when they started.

The students also wanted to create a space where students of different ethnicities and cultures could gather without feeling like outsiders.

“I think we also don’t feel represented sometimes,” said Crystal Martinez-Lopez. “We wanted a group that would represent all of us. … I think that we’re already seeing success goes to show that our voices are actually getting out there. We’re getting out to the community, and people are starting to take note, which is really important.”

Soul of the Summit philanthropy awards

Award winners 
• Outstanding Philanthropist: Howard and Sue Carver
• Outstanding Board Member: Kim Dufty
• Outstanding Business: Omni Real Estate
• Outstanding Citizen: Dr. Walter G. Briney
• Outstanding Educator: Chris Hall
• Outstanding Professional in a Nonprofit: Noelle Sivon
• Outstanding Volunteer: Mary Anne Johnston
• Outstanding Youth: Summit High School Mountain Dreamers
• Outstanding Youth Mentor: Aaron Landau and EVO3
• Community Collaboration: Youth Empowerment Society
• Spirit of the Summit: Mark and Deb Spiers

While awards certainly were not their objective, the Summit High School Mountain Dreamers were touched to learn that they’d been honored with the Outstanding Youth award, and that the greater Summit County community is already noticing their efforts.

“We definitely see more people wanting to get involved,” said Manuel Lopez, another DACA recipient. “We have kids that are more educated on what DACA is, and in the future we hope to get across what its like for us just living here in general. It’s not always easy for us, because our parents came here to give us a better future. … This award means a lot to me, because I’m getting to do what my parents wanted me to do, They brought me over here to succeed, and that’s what we’re doing with this club.”

While all of the members are currently seniors, they said they hope that another group of students will pick up where they left on next year, and are able to continue giving the immigrant community a strong voice at Summit High School. In the mean time, the group is dedicated to doing whatever they can to help out students and others who may need a little assistance.

“If anyone needs help and they don’t know who to reach out to, they can come to us and we can help them find resources to get help,” said Maria Payan. “Yes, we’re trying to start this in school, but if a kid needs help, or they have a parent that wants help, they can reach out to us. … To be able to make an impact like that in the community is pretty special.”

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