Teen volunteer simply wants to make a difference, one student at a time

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Juan Aguilar volunteers hundreds of hours a year to give back to students at his old middle school.

There are many things that teens can do with their free time in high school, but few choose to do what Juan Aguilar does: He returns to his old middle school to give support and advice to students.

Last year alone, he gave 200 hours -- and he's not done yet.

Each semester, about 80 students at Edison Middle School get a unique opportunity to participate in an after-school science workshop funded by the Children's Museum of Houston. There are staff members who help guide them, and then there is 15-year-old Juan Aguilar who comes here because it gives him purpose.

"I feel useful," Aguilar said. "The kids are like, 'Oh how do you do this?' And I just show them, and then next time when they're trying to do it they'll be like, 'Juan taught me this,' and then they're going to teach other students and pass it on."

Andrea Hernandez has run the program for 11 years, so she remembers when Juan was a less-than-enthusiastic participant. He came because his friends did and wasn't interested in science, so she admits she was surprised he returned to volunteer.

As it turns out, he was a late bloomer.

"Ninth grade year, he was really excelled," Hernandez said. "He did really good in school, he came back here and became one of our best volunteers. When I think about my volunteers. I think about how these students are the ones that will eventually take over for me. They understand the kids that we are have in our program. They understand what it is we're trying to do. They understand the value of the program."

The kids in the Children's Museum of Houston Science workshop get to build things of their own design, and even use a 3-D printer. Juan admits he wasted the opportunity when he was in middle school, but he's determined not to let current students do the same.

He came to this program as a shy, tentative student, but he's been transformed into a confident and adventurous one.

"I have confidence in myself now." Aguilar said. "I used to be afraid of failing, but now I feel like I'm going for it, I'm not scared."

And that's the lesson he shares with middle school students who he hopes will one day go to college and get great jobs, just as he hopes for himself.

That's Houston Strong.
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