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Teenage immigrant develops into community leader

LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) – Atalia Cardenas worked extremely hard to develop her potential into success, and she is equally driven to help others achieve their own excellence.

Cardenas, 37, a naturalized citizen and married to Efrain Gerardo, focuses on education and leads by example.

“Instead of having immigrant workers and trying to get through the day, we want to have people who can represent us so that we can have a voice.” Cardenas said, “and to help other people see that we want to be engaged in the community, and be part of the community.”

Cardenas and her sister, Zurisadai, immigrated to Lexington from Mexico at age 15 with her parents, Mario and Otilia Cardenas. One of just four Hispanic students at Lexington Senior High School, Cardenas graduated with honors in 1997.

After attending Davidson County Community College, she briefly studied engineering at Clemson University before returning home and taking an administrative job with Hanesbrands in Winston-Salem. While working at Hanesbrands, Cardenas simultaneously earned a bachelor of science degree in international business from High Point University and an associate degree in paralegal studies from Forsyth Technical College.

“Now when I look back at it, I don’t know how it was done,” Cardenas said. “It was pretty aggressive because I was working for Hanesbrands already when I was going to both Forsyth and High Point, and I was working about 45-50 hours a week. I had no life.”

She does now, though. Cardenas became a paralegal for Hanesbrands and moved up the ranks to her current position of analytical work for legal matters. Away from work, her life is centered on being just as energized to help others dream and achieve.

“It comes definitely from my parents,” Cardenas said. “My dad is a very passionate person in regards to anything he has ever done, and my mom has embedded in my brain that I should always try to help a person and never wait to see what I can get in return. I’ve certainly seen the fruits of that.”

“To me, it’s just helping other people and continuing to make kids realize their potential and help them be successful,” Cardenas said.

The Light of the World Church on Thomason Street in Lexington is another source of inspiration.

“Through our church, we have very strong values that are instilled in us by our international director, and we always want to strive to do better and bring everything back to our community,” she said.

Cardenas‘ community involvement runs deep. Among her activities, she is an incoming member of the board of directors of the United Way of Davidson County; the Latino Village coordinator on Lexington’s Multicultural Festival planning committee (Cardenas was recently named the Lexington Parks and Recreation Department’s event volunteer of the year); and she works closely with the Lexington City Schools Board of Education, which includes volunteering with Project Potential.

In Cardenas‘ church community, she is the membership coordinator for the Regional Alliance of Students and Professionals, an organization that has helped 10 youth go to college.

A new church program, called ‘Alma de Mujer’ (‘Soul of a Woman’), allows Cardenas to assist in locating health resources for women of the church and their families. “I have a lot of community relations with different people,” Cardenas said. “Like Novant (Health), we are partnering with them to do a health fair at our church.”

Also, a North Carolina State University nutritionist in Winston-Salem will be presenting nutrition classes in the program.

Involvement with all of these organizations has led to a network of people willing to help area youth.

“I try to build relationships with people so that when I ask for something, they help me out,” Cardenas said. “My dad was like that. He would always make me ask questions even when I didn’t want to.”

Currently, a youth member of The Light of the World Church serves on the City of Lexington’s Youth Council.

“That’s one of the great things about having those relationships,” Cardenas said. “It helps push some of these young men who probably would not have that opportunity because they don’t know the right people.”

Cardenas hardly knew any people herself when she arrived in Lexington 22 years ago, and that gives her hope.

“Sometimes I feel like it takes forever, but over the last couple of years, everything has come a little bit more together for me in terms of being able to voice my opinion and letting people in the community know that there are other people from different backgrounds that are trying to make that happen,” she said.

“I have come a long way, and I continue to come a long way, but that doesn’t necessarily make me stop there. I want to do even more,” Cardenas said.”Excellence is not perfection, but striving to do something better.”

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Information from: The Dispatch, http://www.the-dispatch.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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