Steven Ozuna (Class of ’07)

Steven Ozuna, who is a rising sophomore at the University of Texas-Pan American, was a major leader in the Llano Grande class’ effort to renovate and revitalize Mario Leal Park. As part of that process, he was introduced to the folks of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design – with whom Llano Grande is a partner – and has developed a relationship with the museum.

To kick off National Design Week, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum held the Teen Design Fair 2007 and I was lucky enough to attend thanks to the kind people at the museum and Llano Grande. I arrived there a little late but made it in time to talk to a few of the many designers at the event.

I first talked to David Rodriguez, an award-winning designer whose designs have been featured in Harpers Bazaar, W and Elle, as well as worn by celebrities including Kirsten Dunst, Carrie Underwood, and Eva Longoria. He told me it would be best to gain experience in the retail business for a healthy portion of your life so you know basically what to do and what not to do in order to run a successful business, which is one of the reasons I’m attending Johnson & Wales University. Another tip I got from him was to never leave a business on a bad note. If I was going to quit a business or something, to do it as professional as possible because EVERYONE in the retail/fashion business knows EVERYONE and they talk — more like gossip — a lot.

Although I didn’t get to speak with him directly, I was able to get useful advice from Isaac Mizrahi (designer for Target stores). He talked about school and how important it is to develop relationships with your professors as well as your own peers, another thing that I’ve been trying to do while at the university. They are the ones that can help you climb that corporate ladder faster and give you much needed recommendations for anything. The most important thing I got from him, though, was “don’t be afraid to fail in school.”

I was a little confused by this because that’s all I fear in school; but then he explained that in school you can fail something because you have people around you to help you get back on your feet, as well as a lot more time and support to help you with any subject you need. But if you fail in life at a job or something, you are the only one who can bring yourself back to your feet, and then the word gets around in “the biz” that you failed your first opportunity to make something of yourself and no one would want to hire you after that, making it more difficult to regain a position in the fashion world.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in New York, but it really helped me gain confidence in the decision to continue my education at Johnson & Wales University. I wanted to be in the business of the fashion industry and have design be something that I could do for myself only. With a powerful speech from Tim Gunn, Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne Inc., I walked out of there feeling like I wanted to make a thousand donkey T- shirts for everyone to enjoy worldwide.

Esperanza Cantu (Class of ’07)

Esperanza Cantu – who many probably know as “Hope” – is a rising sophomore at Kalamazoo College in Michigan who will be working with the Llano Grande Center this summer as our intern. She is helping lead the Center’s high school students through some of the amazing projects that began this past school year.

Flipping burgers and making sundaes was so last summer, so I decided to occupy my summertime with something more significant than an ordinary job. The Llano Grande Center’s newsletter updated me on ongoing projects, and after a phone call from Kalamazoo, MI to Elsa, TX, I set up plans to intern with the LGC. Kalamazoo College’s Field Experience Internship Program allowed me to register my internship with the campus’ Center for Career Development for transcript notation, and awarded me with a competitive, financial grant for various work expenses.

The ongoing project that finalized my decision to intern with Llano Grande involved the Red Barn Chemical Company that inhabited the Elsa community for a little over twenty years. Students worked with staff members throughout the year to investigate Red Barn’s history in Elsa and tell community members’ stories surrounding the hushed controversy. Developing this research will help to further raise community awareness of the relationship between the environment’s condition and population health, and give me the experience I need for future work.

Another project worth mentioning involves the redesigning of Mario Leal Elsa City Park. Students have continuously put their time and effort into renovating the park so that it becomes a more welcoming environment for community members. Meeting with an architect hired by the city will hopefully transform these creative ideas into a well-deserved reality. Engaging in youth-adult partnerships at the LGC, we will work to raise awareness to the community about these issues that have previously been ignored.