By Jack Minch
Sentinel & Enterprise
April 21, 2012
LEOMINSTER — Carolina Correa was just 6 years old when her grandparents were murdered in her native Colombia.
Six months later her father was stabbed 36 times and left to die on the steps to their home.
Violence and tragedies continued to pursue her early life but Correa told about 200 young people at the 13th annual North Central Massachusetts Youth Summit that she made a decision to persevere and go to college after arriving in the United States.
“Life has a funny way of throwing obstacles at us,” Correa said. “My life isn’t perfect, your life isn’t perfect. Don’t use it as a crutch.”
LUK organized the summit, held at the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, to celebrate community service leadership among young people, but it took a large collaboration to pull it off, said Train Wu, the youth development coordinator for LUK.
“For me, personally, leadership is someone who does things other people do not want to do,” Wu said.
LUK has a youth development program encouraging young people to be positive influences on their peers, which served as an impetus for the summit, said Amanda Landry, a mentor recruiter for LUK.
Many young people contribute to their communities, including working with the elderly, cleaning their neighborhoods and helping others at school, said Dean Bailey, a youth development specialist for LUK.
“Our goal is to get them as much recognition as possible,” he said.
District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. briefly addressed the summit. Afterward he praised LUK and the collaboration that put together the the summit.
“This is the type of thing kids need to be involved with,” he said.
The summit encouraged children to persevere and to work hard for education.
“What better message is there than that?” Early asked.
During her keynote address, Correa shared the story of her life in Colombia and as an immigrant child who set a goal to reach college and is now a dual major in psychology and political science at Assumption College in Worcester.
She was the first Latina to be named teen spokeswoman for the Boys & Girls Club of America in 2009-2010.
After her father was murdered, Correa, 21, went to live with another grandmother and received financial support from an aunt.
Then the aunt was murdered and her grandmother suffered a fatal heart attack.
Correa’s mother remarried and the family moved to Pawtucket, R.I., but her problems didn’t end.
Her stepfather’s health failed, and Correa had to care for him while her mother worked multiple jobs to support the family.
She credited the Boys & Girls Club with teaching her to be her own person and to persevere over obstacles.
She arrived in the United States unable to speak English and now speaks with hardly a trace of an accent.
Five years ago she was afraid to swim in the deep end of a pool but now is a member of Assumption College’s swim team.
“It’s struggles that builds foundations. It’s struggles that build strength. It’s struggles that build learning.
Luis Correa, 16, a Leominster High School junior, plans to be an architect, and after Carolina Correa’s speech he attended a workshop on music production.
“I figured it would be interesting to improve my leadership from guest speakers,” said Correa, who is not related to Carolina Correa.
Kareen Serwaa, 16, a sophomore at Leominster High School, is a member of Upward Bound and wants to attend college to be a hematologist who works with patients who have sickle cell anemia.
She planned to attend workshops on drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention, and a hip-hop dance class.
“I’m here to experience what’s going on, it’s my first time,” Serwaa said.
Samantha Heughan, 13, is a Gardner Middle School eighth-grader.
She attended the leadership summit with an eye toward how it can help her in college.
LUK’s planning partners for the summit included Fitchburg State University, Upward Bound Program, Early’s office, Montachusett Opportunity Council and the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
Partial funding was provided by the state Public Health Department, Youth Violence Prevention Program, and North Central Massachusetts Workforce Investment Board.