By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Goals to be environmental lawyer, member of Congress within grasp

Photos by Jason Redmond / Star staff: Johnny Garcia Vasquez, 19, meets with Associated Student Government officers at Oxnard College. With Vasquez, center, are, clockwise from left, Diana Garcia, Antonia Flores, Elizabeth Rangel and Jennifer Domini.

Ventura County Star/July 6 2008

Looking back on leadership roles that led to his desire to become an environmental lawyer and a member of the U.S. Congress, 19-year-old Johnny Garcia Vasquez credits his mother and grandfather for the person he is today.

"What initially inspired me to serve in active leadership roles was growing up with a single mother; the closest male role model that I turned to admire was my grandfather," said Vasquez in praise of Samuel Garcia of Oxnard.

His mother, Andeya Garcia, "continues to support me in my dreams," he said, "and has always done whatever it takes to help me succeed in life."

As a young boy, Vasquez waited after school for his grandpa to return from a long day of harvesting strawberries.

"One afternoon I remember my grandfather getting home all covered in mud and dirt; he looked into my eyes and told me in Spanish, Son, when you grow older, you should get a job where you use your brain and not your hands,'" recalled Vasquez. "I admire my grandfather because he has been my inspiration of pursuing a higher education so I could make a difference in this world."

With this advice in mind, Vasquez has served as Associated Student Body president at Hueneme High School, a unit commanding officer at the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, treasurer of the Future Business Leaders of America and president of Oxnard Union High School's Oxnard District Council.

Throughout high school, he volunteered at the Oxnard Rescue Mission and the annual California Strawberry Festival in Oxnard. He also served as an alcohol and tobacco prevention activist with El Concilio del Condado de Ventura Breakthrough Youth for Success, Resourceful Youth Awareness Coalition for Teens, and the Adolescent Tobacco Awareness Coalition.

A participant in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Vasquez was honored by the Navy League of the United States Channel Island Council as the 2006 Outstanding NJROTC Cadet. A first-year Oxnard College student, he served as a senator in Associated Student Government (ASG) and is chairman of the Student Lounge Renovation Committee.

Keeping up the pace

In his most recent efforts, Vasquez was elected vice president for Oxnard College ASG for fall 2008 and spring 2009, and he recently completed an internship for State Assemblyman Pedro Nava at Nava's Ventura County office in Oxnard.

Vasquez also is a marine mammal activist with Save the Whales and a human rights activist with Amnesty International USA.

"Johnny is very inspired to become an environmental lawyer and one day becoming a U.S. Congress member so he can give a helping hand to the voiceless in our society and can help to protect our environment even more," said Mark Lopez, 32, of Oxnard, who met Vasquez three years ago and has grown to know him through Oxnard City Southwinds Neighborhood council meetings.

There are many young people looking toward the future who need to see a solid example of someone their age trying to make it, Lopez said.

"Johnny has aspirations for his future and serves as this positive role model to others at his college and in the community because life has thrown him many obstacles to overcome," Lopez said. "It amazes me his passion to succeed by overcoming the obstacles in his life by continuing to put one foot in front of the other and never giving up on his pathway to excellence."

Strength from others

For Vasquez, the importance of serving others lies in "knowing that there are people in this world who work tirelessly to try to improve their lives and the lives of their families, such as farmworkers working long hours in bad weather to make ends meet, single mothers working two jobs just to put food on the table for their children and our soldiers fighting an unjustified war in Iraq."

Vasquez plans to earn his associate's degree from Oxnard College and transfer to UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley or UC Santa Barbara to obtain his bachelor's degree in political science.

"Then I would like to attend law school to become an environmental lawyer to help protect our environment," said Vasquez, the oldest of four children. He has two sisters, ages 16 and 9, and a 6-year-old brother.

"After law school, I would like to return to the community," he said, "to continue giving a helping hand to the voiceless in our society as a city council member, state Assembly member or U.S. Congress member."

He hopes to make a difference in people's lives, he said, "by continuing to stand up and becoming one of the leaders of the community and a role model that has the capability to support others in their dreams and help their dreams become a reality."

"It is important to me because it helps me grow and learn from the struggles and experience of others that have made an impact on making this world a better place."

Vasquez is destined to become a great problem solver as a public elected official who will bring positive change to improve the lives of others, Lopez added.

"He will be the leading individual to continue advocating and standing up to protect the environment, wildlife and human rights," Lopez said, "and giving others a helping hand in their efforts to succeed in life."

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