Editor's Note: This article originally ran Sept. 20, 2012.
From a very young age, Carlos Chaves taught his daughter, Ana, to always strive for excellence and, when possible, help others get there, too.
Over the summer, just a year removed from his death, the 16-year-old Bloomfield Township resident took that advice to new heights.
Chaves, now a senior at the International Academy, was among 225 students selected nationwide in Bank of America's Student Leaders Program, which recognizes high school juniors and seniors who demonstrate a commitment to their community and volunteerism.
The initiative is part of Bank of America’s ongoing philanthropic commitment to providing community-minded students with access and exposure to critical resources that will bolster their work and life skills while also benefiting the community, said Brett Bernard, Michigan president of Bank of America.
To that end, Chaves earned a paid, eight-week summer internship with Focus: HOPE and attended the Bank of America’s Student Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. in July with all the other honorees. While there, she and other youth volunteers participated in leadership training, workshops and briefings on Capitol Hill, and got to explore national issues that could shape the rest of their academic and professional careers.
Part of the experience was getting immersed in political issues in Washington, meeting with U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke. Chaves also performed a mock congress workshop where the students were divided into teams and each team selected people to debate an issue. Chaves was chosen by her teammates and debated on environmental regulations.
“It was good to see the arguments from both sides of the issue and how you can make convincing arguments for something that you didn't necessarily believe or understand before," she said. "But what I also came away with is that when people see how passionate you are about something they’re also inspired."
Serve, Inspire, and Change
Chaves said the desire to excel and improve the community around her was something instilled by her father and carried on by her mother, Olga Chaves.
"He was always one of those people that wouldn't accept anything but the best, and to have that as a role model in life is important," Chaves said of her father, who had cancer.
She first applied for the program after being recommended for her volunteer work with Friendship Circle, where she focused her outreach on literacy programs and children with disabilities. Her application also shined with consistent leadership roles, whether it was secretary of the National Honors Society, the French Honor Society or the the Model U.N. EuroChallenge team.
“Bank of America’s student leaders have a passion for community service, and Ana is no exception,” said Tiffany Douglas, market manager, Bank of America. “They not only identify community needs – they actively engage to address them in a manner that is up close and personal. Our student leaders are committed, engaged and excited about their role in making our communities work better for Metro Detroiters and a global society.“
Chaves was among five Metro Detroit students to work as interns with Focus: HOPE is not the first student from the Bloomfield Hills Schools to attain the internship. Last year, Lahser High School senior Armani Hawes was among the 230 students nationwide to participate in Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program.
Both had the chance to experience all facets of the organization, from administration to job training centers. Chaves said she would recommend more students apply, because the opportunity is much great than it appears on the surface.
In addition to work experience and some pay, Chaves said she’s gained a sense of awareness of her surroundings. Chaves grew up in Waterford and moved to Bloomfield Township in the third grade. But she never had much reason to follow or take notice of Detroit.
“I really didn’t know how much I didn’t know about Detroit before this opportunity,” said Chaves, who also speaks French and Spanish. “I never got to see a lot of the problems that are there, but also I never got to see a lot of the positives going on there close-up as well."
The Power of Youth
Reflecting on the experience, Chaves said she's beginning to understand how special it was to be able to meet and mingle with leaders from around the country who are already recognized for doing exemplary work in their communities, whether it’s non-profit organizations, athletics, or academics.
The mix of young, aspiring minds and the backdrop of American idealism and independence was intoxicating for many of the students, Chaves said, and really brought home the importance of what she learned.
"It was so inspirational to see the foundation of our nation," she gushed. "But also, it was seen through the eyes of leaders of the future. I’ve been expanding my horizons and connecting to my community on a personal level and want to keep that going."
Academically, Chaves, who was recently named a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, said she's still exploring her options for college. She is interested in biomedical engineering and genetics, and among the handful of schools she’s considering are the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
She has yet to figure out exactly how she'll serve the community more this year, but Chaves said she now knows how to spot leadership in others and the importance of getting them involved.
"Leadership is someone who blazes a path of inspiration for other people to follow," she said. "It's making a very big impact and being the original, being the first to be able to do. But you can’t just do something yourself, you have to inspire others to help."