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Valued Youth Partnership

Gisel Salinas

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – 2014 Essay Contest

Winner: Middle School Second Place

View printable PDF version of this winning essay 

Gisel Salinas
7th grade, Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School, La Joya, Texas

Since I became a tutor, my life has gone through a positive drastic change that I never thought would happen. There have been times in my life where I thought I would never amount to anything because of where I came from. I see my neighborhood, my home that is barely able to stay up because it’s falling apart, and my empty table with no food and I have many times thought, “Will this be forever?” The answer to this question was always “yes” up until the time I was enrolled in a program at school that literally saved my life. The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has provided that sense of motivation, hope and love that have been missing in my home and with my friends. Because of what this program has done for me, I have learned to love myself more than I ever have before.

Throughout my life, there have been obstacles that have caused me to feel insecure and afraid to take on new challenges. When I started this school year, I was given a class on my school schedule that had the name “VYP” on it. I had heard about that class since last year, but never knew much about what it consisted of. Because I am a shy and timid person, I refused to ask my counselor what this class was all about, and I waited until I got to VYP. As I sat and listened to the teacher explain what the program involved, I immediately became excited to know that I was going to be able to not only teach and tutor elementary students, but that I also would receive a monthly stipend. I guess to any middle school student, the stipend amount I would be getting sounded more like a million dollars. At home, we have always struggled to make ends meet. When I’m not here at school, I’m helping my mom sell candy to help support my entire family. My step-dad has had a hard time finding work because he has a back injury that was caused by a car accident a few years ago. To avoid seeing my mom worry and suffer, I decided to help her pay bills by giving her whatever money I receive in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program. My mom seems to be more relieved knowing that I am learning a lot about possible career options through the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and that I am providing toward the family needs.

It was hard when I first moved to this area from Mexico. For about eight or nine years, we couldn’t go visit my family who still lives over there because we didn’t have the money for gasoline. Now with the help of the stipend the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program gives me, we are able to go visit them every few months. Also recently, my mom was told by her doctor that there could possibly be something medically wrong with her arm, and it could be cancer. As a family, we had to try and get money to make sure she could receive the medicine and treatment needed to overcome this medical problem. If it wasn’t for the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, I wouldn’t have had the money to help my mom live and get better. It has been extremely hard to see my parents go through such pain and suffering. As a teenager, I never imagined I would be going through such an emotional time in my life at such a young age. I know God is pulling for me and giving me the strength to move on not only in my personal problems but as a student. Also, it feels good to see my little brothers and sisters with newer clothes on compared to the rags we used to have to wear when we couldn’t even afford a pair of shoes or jeans.


The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, created by IDRA, is an internationally-recognized cross-age tutoring program. Since its inception in 1984, the program has kept more than 33,000 students in school, young people who were previously at risk of dropping out. According to the Valued Youth creed, all students are valuable none is expendable. The lives of more than 787,000 children, families and educators have been positively impacted by the program. Contact IDRA for more information or see the program website.