Valued Youth Partnership

Nathaniel Duarte

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – 2015 Essay Contest

Winner: High School First Place

View printable PDF version of this winning essay 


Nathaniel Duarte
11th Grade, Odessa High School, Ector County ISD, Texas

People tend to ask me the same question once they find out I’m in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, “Why are you in it?” Well why not? I get to help fifth graders better themselves in academics. And that’s not all, you gain a special relationship with them, you start calling them “your kids,” and you start caring about them without even noticing. You constantly ask them, “How’s life?” or “How are you doing?” because you truly care. To me it’s special because how many high school kids can say they are helping and are role models to fifth graders? Not many.

Another thing is that – I don’t mean to brag – but my kids are pretty great, David, Luis and Rashaard*. David has so much heart and is hungry for success at such a young age, he just needs to work hard like he is and he will become successful. Luis is the more confident, relaxed kind of guy. He’s living free and doesn’t worry about other people’s negativity, a bit of a troublemaker but still a great kid. Now Rashaard is the little genius, as he grows older he’ll learn to lift others who need help. I know my guys will grow to become great men because they have such a bright spirit.

But honestly, they’re changing me. I used to believe that I didn’t have a purpose, but because of them, I’m starting to feel like I have a reason. Because if I don’t go to their school one day, they’ll ask me the next day where was I and why didn’t I go. That’s how I know that I matter to them.  

Another reason this program is special to me is because they lift me up when I’m down. For example, in March I lost a great friend and brother who ran with me in track. He was in a car crash and died instantly. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I truly lost a brother that day, and it affected me. I went to my kids as strong as I could be, but it still wasn’t enough because they asked me what was wrong. I told them what happened and instead of feeling sorry for me, they made me laugh and just spoke to me. They completely changed my depression to laughter. Not only is this program special but so are my kids.

One of my goals in life is for someone to walk up to me and say, “Because of you, I didn’t give up.” That is what I’m trying to accomplish in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, so that maybe by motivating my kids now they will be able to say that to me in the future.  

*name changed for privacy