Local teen earns state honor
WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington teen was an honored guest at the Minnesota Governor's Mansion earlier this week, where she was presented the Red Wagon Award for her volunteer efforts.
Valeria Cano, 17, and a soon-to-be senior at Worthington High School, was one of 11 individuals and five groups to be recognized during the ninth annual event, which recognizes students for outstanding academic achievement, civic engagement and exemplary leadership.
Cano was nominated for the award by Lakeyta Potter, youth initiative coordinator at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.
"She kind of stuck out to me because she has a really kind heart and a great personality," Potter said. "She has a lot of knowledge to share with others. She's a very busy person, but she always finds time to help out when she can."
Cano has been involved in activities at the collaborative since her freshman year. Since then, her GPA has improved significantly, said Potter, and she has helped organize events like Martin Luther King Day and Mix It Up Day. She also volunteers in the circle mentoring program through school, and helps lead the kindness and courage retreat.
"It's more like a pastime to me," Cano said. "I don't really think of it as volunteering.
"It's nice meeting new people. I enjoyed it and slowly I started doing new things," she added. "It's fun."
Since obtaining a part-time job at the Worthington Area YMCA in February, Cano can also be found volunteering to help out when she's able. She will often help watch children while their parents are in classes at the Y, and works with the Childwatch program there.
On Tuesday evening, during an outdoor ceremony at the Governor's Mansion, Cano received her token of appreciation and recognition in the form of a certificate and a small, red Radio Flyer wagon. She had no idea she'd been nominated for the award until about three weeks ago.
Potter and Cano's mom, Catalina Martinez, accompanied her to the event.
"It was huge --it was really fancy," said Cano, adding that her mom likened the event to a royal gathering. Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon presented the awards in a large, white tent on the mansion's lawn.
"She was very nice -- a humble lady," said Cano.
The youngest of nine children, Cano said she's always liked being able to help others. Her future plans are to attend college and major in psychology. She's not yet sure which area of counseling she'd like to work in -- perhaps marriage, family or sexual abuse -- but she's "positive" she wants to counsel.
"I see that everybody gets caught up in their own world. It's nice to step back and help somebody else out," she said. "A lot of that is because of my mom. I always see her trying to help out other people before herself. That trickles down to me. She's a very independent lady, and I look up to her."
In between her volunteer efforts, work and summer league soccer and softball, Cano is already looking forward to her next challenge --how she can make a difference during her senior year.
One idea is a new effort at the Collaborative, Project Footsteps, which hopes to get youths to be more active in their community.
"If you don't expose yourself, you're never going to know what the outside world can offer you," said Cano. "If I didn't take the risk to try new things, I never would have been in the position I'm in now. Don't hesitate because you're of a different race or of a different religion. You'll always have something in common with a stranger."
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.