I suspect that some of my readers don’t always have a great deal of interest in reading about the unknown individuals about whom I often write but they should be craving essays about such people. Our world is made of millions upon millions of stories which in total keep life on our big blue planet working the way it should. It is a truth that each and every life is incredibly important and taken together they create the society that affects us all. I most enjoy knowing about the young men and women who are just beginning their adult journeys. Our future depends on them and from my vantage point I see a wonderful world ahead. We should all be quite optimistic knowing that they are taking the reins.
Yesterday I met with a wise and compassionate young lady who promises to be a force for positive change. Guadalupe Ortega has demonstrated profound sensitivity for her fellow travelers from the time that she was still a school girl making her way through middle and high school. Not only has she always been incredibly conscious of the needs of her fellow classmates but she also often embraced a role of responsibility within her family. There are those among us who were born to be caretakers of society, the Mother Teresas in our midst. Guadalupe is just such a person. She has always been concerned about the welfare of troubled souls. When others barely noticed the suffering, Guadalupe would not only realize who was in dire need of help but she also sometimes empathized with them to the point of tears. She has a kind heart and an observant eye. It didn’t surprise me in the least to learn that she wanted to major in Criminal Justice in college.
Like most young people just starting out, Guadalupe was a bit fearful of venturing too far from home once she had graduated from high school but she is a self reflective soul and she understood that it was time to push herself out of her comfort zone just a bit. Thus she chose to attend Johnson and Will University in Denver, Colorado. She would have to learn how to navigate through airports and deal with an entirely new environment that included snow. The move pushed her to find new friends and to deal with homesickness. She understood the challenges but also realized that it was time for her to become the independent person that she was meant to be and so four years ago she said goodbye to her family and the friends who had been with her for most of her youth and ventured into the unknown.
Guadalupe adapted well and quickly. With her open and friendly nature she found a few good friends who proved to be dependable and joined a sorority that focused on service in the community. Because Johnson and Will University is a small college her classes were highly personalized and intimate. She learned much about our criminal justice system and the many career paths under that umbrella that she might one day pursue. Mostly she enjoyed delving into the law and the nature of man. Along the way she realized that she really wanted to be a change agent for those who have somehow gone astray. By the time that she graduated this past May she had already been working with troubled teens.
Guadalupe’s job is at a rehabilitation center for girls who have become addicted to drugs and alcohol. Their problems are many and go far beyond an inability to face life without the help of chemicals. Almost eighty percent of them have been victims of human trafficking. They have been used and abused for most of their lives. They lack trust in anyone and often feel unwanted and unloved. They are prone to violent outbursts that include both physical and emotional attacks. They are not easy to be with and yet Guadalupe travels each day from the safety and comfort of her apartment to do her part to help them to begin to trust society and to turn their lives around.
The young women are housed in dormitories of eight. Guadalupe is in charge of two such cabins. That means that she is involved in the plight of sixteen girls. It can be a trying experience. The turnover rate for the job is enormous because it is both physically and emotionally trying. Guadalupe has been hit and bears bruises and scars from the outbursts of some of her girls but she cares so deeply about them that she overlooks the dangers. Every Sunday she spends her own money to bring all of the ingredients for preparing a hearty breakfast for her girls. She sees her gesture as a small price to pay for the joy that it brings to her group. She and the young women look forward to the time when they can cook and eat together and feel like family.
Recently there was an electrical fire in one of the cabins. Guadalupe had to rush into the flames to be certain that all of her charges had exited to safety. One young lady was still inside, determined to end her life in a fiery blaze. She would not move even as Guadalupe entreated and cajoled her. She eventually even suggested that she and Guadalupe should die together. It took every bit of her learning and her instincts for Guadalupe to finally and forcefully coax the girl out of the danger.
Guadalupe Ortega has a strength of character and an earnest understanding of people that will make her a champion for the underdog. She did not go to college and earn a degree in search of fame or wealth. Her only desire is to truly make a difference in someone’s life. In only a few short months she has already begun to make her mark. She proudly spoke of one of her girls who became clean and sober under her guidance and has now reentered society with a determination to put her horrific past behind her. There was a glow of love and pride on Guadalupe’s face as she spoke humbly of her part in helping this once lost little girl.
I’m proud to have been a very small influence in Guadalupe Ortega’s life. I suspect that she will perform thousands of miracles in the course of her work. She will touch the souls of those who are too often relegated to the dustbin of society. I am incredibly impressed with the person that she has become and I hope and pray that we will be able to stay in touch over the coming years. I have little doubt that she will become a leader in the criminal justice system. She has a natural ability to ferret out and help transform those who have lost their way. She understands that circumstances sometimes overwhelm people and push them to surrender to forces that are unhealthy for them. She does not judge but realizes that but for the grace of God she or even I may have found ourselves in the lowly places that her young women have been. All of us would do well to follow Guadalupe’s example and somehow give of ourselves to those who live in the shadows. Guadalupe is a warrior for good and for hope. It will be people like her who make the biggest difference in whether a tortured individual ends up in jail or is rehabilitated. I’m putting my money on Guadalupe Ortega.
Congratulations, Guadalupe, on your amazing journey and your graduation. It is an honor to know you and to be your friend. You have become a truly incredible woman and I’m quite sure that you have only just begun.