Maria Naranjo knew from a very young age that her calling was to advocate for others. After having felt isolated and voiceless as an immigrant child who was unable to speak English, Naranjo knew that once she had finally found her voice, she would use it to help the voiceless. Naranjo’s chance to use that voice was fostered by participating in programs such as LEADD, a faith based youth advocacy program that taught children about accepting and advocating for people with religions that are different from their own, and ANYTOWN, a youth leadership program sponsored by Community Tampa Bay, dedicated to “eliminating all forms of discrimination.” These programs were where Maria found her voice as well as her passion for youth development and empowerment.
Throughout her service experience, Naranjo has continued to cultivate her passion for youth development through acting as an ANYTOWN counselor where she organized and facilitated workshops that revolved around dialogue and respect, as well as serving as an AmeriCorps Summer VISTA for Community Tampa Bay. Her current role in the field of youth empowerment is that of her participation in PeaceJam at Florida State. Maria serves as an intern as well as a continual volunteer for the PeaceJam program, and has contributed significantly to its development. One of most noteworthy of the service experiences that Naranjo has participated in is that of her service trip to Ghana during the summer of 2013.
Naranjo characterized this trip as a humbling one for many reasons. One of the most significant of these reasons is because it was originally planned to be a trip devoted to taking her youth development abroad, but turned into a health and wellness informational campaign. During this trip, Maria completed tasks such as creating a brochure of Tuberculosis awareness, prevention, and treatment, as well as traveling to communities and villages to inform the people of Ghana about this disease. During this trip, Naranjo contemplated heavily on the service that she completes regularly. She wondered about ways in which she could increase her effectiveness and ensure that she was helping and not hurting the people involved.
After graduation, Maria plans to attend graduate school in hopes of further developing her ability to empower and help the people around her. She also hopes to continue the opportunities that she has had to get to know the people that she is serving as well as their stories.