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January 9, 2013     Hays Free Press
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HaysFreePress.com January 9, 2013 11 ...... Four profiles on individuals that give back to the community. - Page 1C Page 3B COURTESY PHOTO Alano Atvarez fulfilled his dream of visiting China after learning Mandarin at ACC and saving money from his job at Chick-fiI-A. BY KIM HILSENBEC~( kim@haysfreepress.com More than two years ago, Alano Alva- rez, now 18, was watching music videos onYou Tube. He stumbled on one from a group singing in Chinese and thought it would be cool to understand what they were saying. That prompted him to connect with pen pals in Southeast Asia on Inter Pals. Alvarez then started watching videos to help him learn how to speak Mandarin Chinese. His fascination with the language and the culture was not a passing fancy. A1- varez took a Mandarin language course through Austin Community College in the summer of 2011. In his mind, he began formulating a plan to visit China and immerse himself in the language. With that as his goal, the 16-year-old got a job a Chick-fil-A in Kyie and start- ed socking money away for his trip. He figured it would be a graduation present to himself; one that he would work and save for during a two-year period. While other teenagers were spending their money on "kid stuff," like mov- ies and electronic equipment, Alvarez allotted himself $20 a paycheck for "Having my dream come true was completely fulfilling." -Alano Alvarez, world traveler fun money. He also paid about $240 a month to his mom for gas and car insurance. "People asked how I could spend only $20," he said. "But I knew I was saving for something more exciting." After the ACC course, Alvarez said he was able to converse with Chinese- speaking customers at Chick-ill-A, impressing his fellow co-workers. Having never traveled outside the United States before, Alvarez applied for a passport and had to get a travel Visa. As the time grew near, he got more excited - and nervous. While he'd spent time away from home for adventure camps in the summer, a trip to Asia, alone, was a big step. Alvarez managed to save about $3,500 working at the restaurant, which he said is a lot of fun and it's a really good company to work with. He still works there, saving money for his next trip to Asia; but we digress. Shortly after graduating from Leh- man High School in May 2012, Alvarez embarked on his big trip to China. He registered for a two-month Mandarin course at the University of Beijing. On July 25, he flew from Austin to Dallas to Korea to Beijing. On his mind at the time was, "This is it, there is no turning back!" For Alvarez, the experience was be- yond his expectations. "Having my dream come true was completely fulfilling," he said. Learning Mandarin and living in Bei- jing inspired Alvarez to think about some- day working in an embassy, perhaps as a U.S. diplomat or even an ambassador. In the meantime, he is about to leave on a trip to Surabaya, Indonesia, for a two-week vacation to visit his room- mate from the university in China. His job at Chick-fil-A allowed him to save about $1,000 for this trip; he said he won't need as much money this time because he has a place to stay. But Alvarez said he would love to return to Beijing someday. "I made a lot of friends and I miss the hustle and bustle of the city," he said. BY KIM HILSENBECK kim@haysfreepress.com Applying business concepts in a real world setting; that may be one way to describe Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). The organization, an international nonprofit that works with leaders in business and higher education, mobiliz- es university students to make a difference in their communi- ties while developing socially responsible leadership skills. At Texas State University, about 70 students are involved in SIFE, now called Enactus. They form teams and develop outreach projects that improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need. According to Justin Por- tilto, a member of SIFE at Texas State, one of the group's current proj- ects involves producing food. Portillo described "Project Growth" which uses aquaponics, a sus- tainable food produc- tion system combining traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails or fish in tanks) with hydropon- ics (cultivating plants in water). The group at Texas State uses fish in their tanks- about six to eight in each. For each tank sold, Portillo said, SIFE will build a second tank that is donated. "Students can sell a system to their families, churches or neighbors," Portillo said. "They cost about $150. SIFE will "The students (at those then donate a second aqua- schools) will grow plants and ponics system to a rural corn- vegetables using nutrient-rich munity in Central Texas." water from fish in the same The team in charge of Proj- habitat. Ultimately, the stu- ect Growth manages the pro- dents will witness the power of gram just like a business, mak- sustainability, and harvest the ing decisions about materials, plants and fish," Portillo said. costs, labor, distribution and He said the organization promotion. Portillo said his hopes to provide such systems team already had 10 orders, for local schools. but that means they needed to The idea helped Texas State build 20 units. SIFE maintain its record as one Texas State SIFE students of the most distinguished and spent about nine hours on a decorated chapters in the or- recent Saturday in December ganization. in Kyle building the first round "We are two-time national ofaquaponics systems. Portillo champions and have won the said some of those were deliv- regional competition for 16 ered to elementary schools in consecutive years," Portillo South Texas. said. netted P~ PHOTO BY MICHELLE HENAO Greg Souquette (left) teaches fellow SIFE members (I-r) John Hock, Patrick Oldmixon, Croix Caron and Phillip Sturdevant how the IBC aquaponic system works so they can begin to assemble the remaining units. th