Making a difference

Leslie Renteria (center) doing what she does best: helping the youths of City Heights.

Leslie Renteria (center) doing what she does best: helping the youths of City Heights.

Leslie Renteria hadn’t planned on becoming an influential figure in her community. It just sort of happened.

“My mom dragged me to a meeting at Hoover High School during my freshman year, she wanted me to get involved, and I met Mark Tran with Mid-City CAN,” Renteria said, referring to the Mid-City Community Action Network’s executive associate director. “He showed make how I could help make a difference.”

She has been making a difference ever since, successfully lobbying local and state officials to fund a long-awaited skatepark in City Heights while serving as a role model and mentor for several inner-city youths aiming to be the first in their family to go to college.

Now Renteria, a freshman at UC Merced, will be honored as Outstanding Youth/Student Volunteer during the National Philanthropy Day Awards banquet Nov. 9 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. The awards are presented by National University’s Sanford Institute of Philanthropy. National Philanthropy Day, now in its 43rd year, is organized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, San Diego Chapter.

Renteria, a first-generation college student, has never let the challenges she has faced keep her from helping others. She has volunteered at myriad events, including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and she is an active member of the City Heights Area Planning Committee, Human Impact Partners, the Mid-City CAN Youth Council, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish, and more. In addition, she also has served on the California Family Health Council, played a key role in lobbying for restorative justice programs at several San Diego high schools, and is engaged in a number of homeless-outreach efforts.

Renteria also is making a difference with Reality Changers, a nonprofit dedicated to helping youths from underserved backgrounds get into college. Over the past two years alone, she has dedicated more than 500 hours to Reality Changers and has connected with more than 1,000 Reality Changers alumni to establish mentorships and increase student graduation rates in underrepresented communities.

Last summer, when most students were enjoying vacation, Renteria was hard at work serving as a mentor to a new crop of eighth-graders who were struggling in school and looking for an inspirational figure who was going to college.

At Mid-City CAN, Renteria played a vital role in advocating for a needed City Heights skatepark at Park de la Cruz at Dwight and 38th streets – an effort that included lobbying elected officials, reaching out to skeptical neighbors and even helping with the design. The city is scheduled to break ground on the City Heights skatepark later this year and complete the project in 2017.

The San Diego chapter of the American Planning Association was so impressed with the skatepark efforts that it presented Renteria and other members of the Mid-City CAN Youth Council its award for best grassroots initiative.

Leslie Renteria (center) doing what she does best: helping the youths of City Heights.

Leslie Renteria (center) doing what she does best: helping the youths of City Heights.

Renteria’s plans after graduating from college? “I want to be an urban planner, go back to San Diego, and work to help make the city better.”