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Ramon Leija

#230 Ramon Leija, Student

Faced with negativity and peer pressure, I had a tough time growing up in my hometown of Indio, CA. Young and naïve, I began to partake in the wrong doings around me to overcome my feeling of being entrenched in poverty. Naturally my poor decisions and associations with the wrong people led me to become incarcerated through the Department of Juvenile Justice where I spent three of my teenage years.

I was sent to the S. Carraway Public Service and Fire Center, a fire camp through DJJ. I had ample time to reflect on where I went wrong in life and how I could have made the right decisions. I voluntarily participated in many counseling classes and found my passion - firefighting and helping my community.

A defining moment for me was when I realized how much I upset my Mother when she came to visit me in the facility. It was then that I realized that not only was I hurting myself, but I was also hurting the people around me. I experienced redemption during my time there and decided that moving forward I would make my Mother proud of me.

In the Spring of 2011, I took courses at College of the Desert. Then I spent one year volunteering with a Los Angeles Conservations Corps Americorps program working with and being trained by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority in Calabasas, CA fighting wild fires, maintaining local hiking trails and performing a variety of wild land conservation tasks. After my year of service, I returned home where I was hired as a youth coordinator with the non-profit organization Raices Cultura in the East Coachella Valley. As a coordinator I organized presentations and discussions around broad themes like cultural consciousness, healing and well-being, manhood development, health equity, social justice, and leadership.

Ultimately as the coordinator, I had the opportunity to influence young men to avoid the pitfalls that I encountered as a youth and encouraged them to instead focus on their education and making a positive difference within their lives and in society.

Along with my community engagement, I continued my studies at College of the Desert with EMT and fire courses. In the Fall of 2014, I enrolled in the Fire Academy and now have expectations of graduating in April of 2015. I credit COD Fire Technology coordinator, Chief Scott Ventura, with guiding me and encouraging me to continue with my education.

My next goal is to get an A.S. degree in Fire Science here at College of the Desert and then transfer to Cal State Los Angeles to get a B.S. degree in Fire Administration and Technology. I also have aspirations for becoming a paramedic prior to working in the fire service. I would also like to continue providing community service and gain real work experience by becoming a Volunteer Reserve Firefighter for the Riverside County/Cal Fire department. I know that one day I will fulfill my final goal of becoming a full time employed Fire Fighter.

In December of 2014, I received the Young Visionary of the Year Award presented to me at the Coachella Chamber of Commerce’s Business & Awards Gala for my work in the community.

I am very dedicated to uplifting and “giving back” to society. It is my family, peers, and mentors that encourage me and give me the fuel to continue on the path to accomplishing my goals.

Not only have I exceeded the promise I made to myself, which was to make my Mother proud, but I’ve also contributed to my community along the way. My past is what motivated me to be the man that I am now. What began as a punishment became a blessing. In fact, education is my liberation from the decisions that I made as a youth. Thankfully, College of the Desert has created a path for me to do just that.