“It’s hard to keep trying when it looks like your family will never live a normal life.” That’s how Pedro Moreno says he felt, struggling with school and living in fear. His neighborhood was a literal battleground.
“My family and I always had one mission in life, and that was to find our way out of poverty,” Moreno adds. “Our home and our car both had bullet holes in them, which reminded me every day where and how we lived. The bullet wound scarred into my best friend’s stomach also served as an indication.”
As if that wasn’t tough enough, Moreno also faced problems with school.
“Even in elementary school, I struggled in class,” says the Tulsa, Okla., native. “Unlike most students who could ask for help from their parents at home, my mother was not fluent in English, so my options were severely limited.”
With all the difficulties he was facing, Moreno says he found himself falling into a negative way of thinking. “I battled with these thoughts the majority of my life, and for years they beat me down.”
Still, deep inside, Moreno knew that education would be the key to providing his family with a better life. And despite the challenges, his mother always believed in him.
Moreno explains that his mother worked hard to make sure that her four children were fed and clothed. He also remembers her gentle encouragement with the words, “Mi’jo, nunca te rindas,” which translates as, “My son, don’t ever give up.”
Eventually, the message got through to him. During his junior year, Moreno found something that finally grabbed, and held, his attention: an electrical technology course and membership in SkillsUSA.
“This was a major turning point in my life and way of thinking,” he remembers. “Not only did I learn skills to land a good job right out of high school, but also I found the ability to help others through leadership.”
Moreno threw himself wholeheartedly into the program. His advisor at the time was Larry Batson.
“He was already a good people person and a young man that could be trusted,” Batson says. “He had to work hard to overcome some obstacles in the program, and his efforts paid off.”
During his first year in SkillsUSA, Moreno competed in Extemporaneous Speech. “I got fourth place out of four in the district competition,” he says. The next year, however, he made it to the national competition. But his SkillsUSA experience was about more than contests.
Batson believed so much in the young man, he encouraged Moreno to branch out into leadership opportunities.
“Pedro was a natural during local meetings,” Batson says. “Pedro had a desire to be an officer with an ambition I wish more of my students possessed.”
Because of that, “my advisor encouraged me to run for an Oklahoma state officer position,” Moreno remembers. He credits that experience with his overall development as a person. “My success as a state officer developed my leadership, professionalism and a fond enthusiasm for learning.”
Moreno continued his personal development by running for — and winning — a SkillsUSA national office in June 2007. He is currently serving as college/postsecondary vice president.
“My decision to run for national office was mainly about giving back,” Moreno explains. “When I walked away from my state officer year, I knew that SkillsUSA developed, trained and matured me to be the young leader I am today.
“I felt I had to give back to SkillsUSA by contributing as a national officer, so I can inspire anyone I can.”
The other side of the earth
Besides his responsibilities with SkillsUSA, Moreno still has school to think about. He’s currently a sophomore at Oklahoma State University in Okmulgee, where he is studying instrumentation engineering.
This past semester, Moreno got an opportunity to branch out in a new way: a semester abroad at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology North Bangkok, a highly regarded engineering school in Thailand.
“Oklahoma State University has had a partnership with many schools in Thailand for many years now, but this year was the first year they sent students,” Moreno says. “I was asked by the OSU staff because I was heavily involved with the multicultural committees.”
Yet even while he was working hard in his classes — while adjusting to a new culture, no less — Moreno still found time to share what he’s learned as a member of SkillsUSA.
“Although I’m completely on the other side of earth, I still receive many opportunities to speak to students about leadership and professionalism in the world of work,” he says.
His time in Thailand has made him work hard and reflect about where he’s going — and where he’s been.
“Thailand is an experience I will never forget. I’m pushing myself mentally with engineering courses while trying to learn as much as I can about Thai culture — in and outside of the classroom,” he says. “I’m also challenging myself physically: I hiked through the jungle up the highest mountain in Thailand.
“Lastly, I’m reflecting upon myself spiritually, thinking about where I would be had I given up.”
The battleground of his childhood is never far out of his thoughts. “All my life I was trying to make it out of the ‘bad neighborhoods,’ Moreno says. “I never thought I would make it this far.”