Seeing Karen Uriostegui volunteering with disabled students at Braddock High School is almost the same as watching a teacher at work. She uses flash cards to teach them about people, places and things. She uses toy clocks to teach them about time. The special needs kids may not even realize that Karen is just a student who developed a passion in freshman year.
“When I started working with them I really liked the feeling, helping others and putting a smile on their face, something so simple, but it felt good, it felt amazing,” Karen said.
She is the student government president, and the president of the club that brings disabled kids into the mainstream of student life. For Karen, it’s not a one-way street.
“I actually got one of the non-verbal students to say my name and that’s the moment that I was like, I want to do this the rest of my life,” said Karen, a senior.
“The whole aspect of, you get out what you put into it, and i think she puts a lot into it because she expects a lot out of it,” said Manuel Garcia, the principal at Braddock High. “That’s what she does, she just continues to give back and I think she likes stretching herself into challenging areas.”
The work Karen does with her mentally and physically disabled peers is noticed beyond the special needs classrooms. It inspires her friends.
“An extreme inspiration, it’s not something that i would picture myself doing but Karen does it and inspires me to do better,” said classmate Joel Gonzalez.
Karen’s sincerity is noticed.
“She doesn’t do it as a resume booster, she doesn’t do it so that people could recognize her, Karen does it because she truly wants to make a difference,” said classmate Patricia Velasco.
Karen also is an academic superstar. She has a 5.3 GPA in the Cambridge Program, she’s in the top 1% of her class, and she’s president of the peer-counseling HIP club. She will also be the first in her immigrant family to go to college.
“I came here when I was 8 years old, had to learn the language, had no one to help me, I had to teach myself English, I had to work on my own, but it feels good to see how much the hard work paid off,” Karen said.
She has also found a calling. Karen says she’ll turn her hobby of working with the disabled into a career after college.