Maria Valdez, known also as Imelda, first heard about Adventure Risk Challenge from a friend back in 2009 when she was a sophomore at Truckee High School. Unsure at first, she applied for the summer course completely unaware of what her experience with ARC would bring. She was excited to be out of her comfort zone, to be removed from technology, and to visit beautiful natural places, but she didn’t know what it would be like to be away from home for 40 days at the University of California’s Sagehen Creek Field Station.
Eight years later, despite the physical and mental challenges of the 40-day course, Imelda has very fond memories of her ARC summer. She still remembers the views she cherished from the top of her rock climb; she remembers her 24-hour solo and the feeling of being alone with her thoughts for an entire day. During the solo, students stay within a small area in the wilderness by themselves (they are checked up on by ARC staff). Imelda described it as a unique experience for a teenager: “It was very unfamiliar, but it was one of the best parts. From [the solo], I was able to know myself better. In your challenges, sometimes you’re going to be alone, but you can overcome them.”
During her time with ARC, Imelda made deep connections with more than just her fellow students. Years later, ARC continues to impact Imelda’s life through her friendships with ARC teammates, volunteers and staff. About half of the people she met that summer are still in her life in some capacity from coworkers to personal friends. Imelda still maintains a close friendship and mentoring relationship with several community members from that summer as well, including Susi Lippuner and Paul Bancroft, who have helped guide her through her academic and professional successes.
Imelda is a source of inspiration to future and current ARC students. The oldest child of a single mother, she helped take care of her younger siblings and worked multiple jobs throughout high school. After her summer with ARC, she continued to devote many hours to community service, and during her senior year of high school she received several scholarships for college, including one from the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation for her dedication to the community. In 2011, she accepted an offer to attend CSU Chico.
Throughout college Imelda continued to dedicate her time to bettering her community. As a member of Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE) she volunteered in the school system, did park cleanup and offered services to the homeless community of Chico. Imelda worked as a Community Service Officer and was promoted to a Field Training Officer for the University Police Department. From there she was selected to work with Chico Safe Place where she did outreach, awareness, education, intervention and research on crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and harassment for the Chico State community. Additionally, she was the designer for the Multicultural Echoes Magazine, a literary magazine on campus, and even spent a summer studying abroad in Spain.
In addition to all of her extracurricular activities, Imelda was recognized for her high academic achievements in college. She was a part of several national honor societies and each year she was granted new scholarships, including a national scholarship for her accomplishments and hard work. She was on the Dean’s List for all of her 10 semesters, consistently achieved a 4.0 GPA and completed over 200 hours of community service. In 2016, Imelda graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from CSU Chico. Upon graduation, she was awarded the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Achievement Award for achieving academic excellence in her program while contributing exemplary service to the community.
Imelda currently lives in Truckee and works full-time as a Bilingual Advocate at Tahoe Safe Alliance; she now works alongside the advocates who brought her hope many years ago and helped her along her journey to college. She also works as a fill-in Security Guard at Martis Camp where she is the only woman among the security team. Imelda continues to strive for her lifelong dream of being an FBI agent, a goal she’s had since the 6th grade. As a woman of color, she is defying others’ expectations and stereotypes as she gracefully and confidently moves toward a career in law enforcement. Her strength shows through in her dedication, “I continue to face my biggest obstacle, but I have hope. I am working hard and doing my best to get there.”
Through her actions and her words, Imelda is an example and an inspiration. To any future ARC students reading this, Imelda wishes to share these words:
It was a struggle, the 40 days, but I would do it again. Even though it’s not going to be easy – it’s going to be difficult in one way or another – you get to see things you probably won’t see again, and those connections that you make can lead you to success.