Progress 2013 on newsstands now: Success in servicePublished 4:33am Sunday, February 24, 2013
Former student finds his passion through volunteer opportunities
Rene Lazaro didn’t expect college to work out for him as well as it did. Though the 20-year-old Austin resident just finished his first semester at Riverland Community College, he never expected to work toward a postsecondary degree. In fact, he said he didn’t really want to go to school at all — he was pressured into it.
“If I wanted to succeed in life, I should get into college,” Lazaro said. “That was the idea why I wanted to come here first.”
Yet Lazaro has found the clichés of higher education do hold true: Going to college opens up opportunities to volunteer, to learn about things you’re interested in and to grow as a person.
Lazaro moved to Austin with his family in 1998, when he was in first or second grade. A 2011 Austin High School graduate, Lazaro didn’t participate much in high school. He never felt the need to, and there were other things to keep his interest.
Things like his camera. Lazaro found he wanted to take photos after following his friends around various house parties in town for a few months after high school, where he discovered his passion for documenting life as it happened.
“There’s a whole lot of things going on here,” he said.
That transferred to his college career far easier than he thought. He jumped into his classes starting in fall 2012 with ease.
“[Riverland] was really easy and willing to work around your schedule,” Lazaro said.
What’s more, he found immediate opportunities to get involved: Several of his friends participated in P’adelante, a youth group dedicated to raising awareness about Latino issues in Mower County and beyond. Not just a Riverland group, P’adelante included area high school students, young professionals and Riverland alumni.
“I was interested in their message,” Lazaro said. “They wanted to work with Latinos and get their message out instead of just hiding or being scared of actually going out and speaking with our voices.”
The group made its biggest impact last fall, when more than two dozen volunteers spoke at area churches, stores and events trying to register more Latinos in Austin and Albert Lea for the 2012 elections.
“Several students came up to me and asked what they could do to help Latinos in the community,” said Yesenia Mendoza, an adviser for P’adelante.
The 2012 elections were important for P’adelante volunteers, as a proposed voter ID amendment to the Minnesota Constitution called for residents to present a state-approved license or identification card whenever they wanted to vote. Proponents of the amendment said the measure would cut down on voter fraud, but political activists, county auditors and civil rights experts said the amendment was too broad, didn’t define what IDs were acceptable, and unfairly targeted minorities who may not have a driver’s license or state ID card, among other groups of people. Minnesota voters narrowly voted down the amendment.
“It was interesting, making an impact,” Lazaro said. “We got to see that we were actually doing something, instead of just not doing anything.”
That’s why volunteers worked to raise awareness about the ID, asking people to call Centro Campesino, an Owatonna-based Latino rights group, for more information about the amendment, the DREAM act and registering to vote.
Yet P’adelante hopes to accomplish more. The group also plans to let people know about resources in the community, as well as urging local government officials to accept matricula consular — a form of ID from the Mexican Consulate to the U.S. — during things like traffic stops or filling out forms at county offices.
Capturing the moment
Lazaro may not be taking classes at Riverland this semester, but he’s working on his passion for photography. He’s become a chronicler of sorts for P’adelante, and for Riverland. He took photos of Riverland’s “Be Your Best” program last year, and was a photographer for Riverland’s Student Ambassadors group, which conducts college tours for prospective students, hosts events and acts as an event planning board, among other things. Lazaro has even taken promotional photos for Riverland.
“I loved capturing peoples’ interests, what they liked to do,” Lazaro said. “I was capturing Austin, the people in Austin.”
He hopes to continue his photography, studying either art or communications at a four-year college once he’s done taking his general classes here. He’s not sure how he wants to further his career yet, whether that means becoming a documentarian or a photographic artist. Lazaro is sure of one thing, though: He’s glad to have come to Riverland, and he’s glad to get involved in his community.
“I felt like I needed to switch up my life,” He said. “I felt like I should do something for the community instead of just watch it.”