Heart of America Internship Inspires Jose Vazquez ’15 to Seek Education Reform

Jose Vazquez '15 (blue shirt) paints a mural at a school in Baltimore with his group.
Jose Vazquez '15 (blue shirt) paints a mural at a school in Baltimore with his group.

A Levitt Public Service internship this summer has solidified Jose Vazquez’s ’15 desire to pursue a career in education policy and reform. Vazquez is in Washington D.C. as an intern for The Heart of America Foundation, a non-profit organization that builds libraries for under-resourced schools across the nation.  The organization partners with Target and embarks on their 15th year anniversary building 150+ libraries nationwide.

The Levitt Public Service Internship Fund was started with the generous support of the Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation, with the goal of supporting students interested in careers in public service.  It is jointly administered by the Career Center and the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.

Vazquez assists the READesign team that does the project management and selection of schools.  “I’m researching schools and getting as much background information as possible, including the percentage of students that receive free/reduced lunch and if the school is Title I,” explains Vazquez. “I am the youngest intern to ever be part of the organization itself and I love the office community so far.”

The admiration is apparently mutual as the team took Vazquez along to Baltimore to help in an opening ceremony for a library that they designed and planned. “In the elementary school in Baltimore, I led a group of volunteers in painting a school mural and it was really fulfilling,” Vazquez recalls. “I’m so glad that I can work with an organization that promotes literacy and can make a difference in every community.”

Vazquez describes Heart of America as “one of those organizations that tackles the issue directly to completely transform the heart of a school, which is its library. Not only is the library given a state-of-the-art makeover,” he said, “but each child goes home with seven books for their own personal reading.” Heart of America has also partnered with food banks to send each child and parent home with 25-pounds of food.

In describing the visit to Baltimore, Vazquez said, “It was inspiring to watch the kids as they entered their new library and to hear one child say that he wishes he could ‘live in the library.’ That made me realize the importance of public service and what it means for a community to show that they care about children and their education. The Heart of America Foundation correlates with my belief that the heart and mind of our country comes from the public school.”

Not one to sit still, Vazquez keeps busy after his internship work as well. “Two days a week after my internship, I volunteer for FLOC (For Love of Children) and tutor basic mathematics to a child,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience. The organization attempts to reduce the learning gap in students who are behind in school and commits to a scholar program that pays/prepares them for college.

In August when his internship ends Vazquez will head to Mountain View, Calif., where he will participate in the Google BOLD (Building Opportunities for Leadership & Development) diversity internship program. The program selects 50 students from across the nation and gives participants a rare glimpse into the technology industry, career opportunities at Google, and valuable professional and peer networks.

Vazquez concludes, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to be influential in the education realm and give every child the resources to make the most out of his or her education and life decisions.  I might even start my own non-profit organization someday.”

Vazquez is a graduate of Ronald Reagan High School/Doral Senior High School (Fla.)

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