11th Annual Power Within

Dreshaun Harper Power Within 2023

Annual recognition event shines spotlight on three exemplary students and names one CIS site coordinator “Unsung Hero”

Communities In Schools of Southern Nevada (CIS of Southern Nevada) recognized three students for their remarkable improvement during the 2022-2023 school year as part of the organization’s annual The Power Within. The scholastic and personal achieving students recognized include Elissa Diaz from E.W. Griffith Elementary School; Stephanie Martinez Villezcas from Jim Bridger Middle School; and Dreshaun Harper from Canyon Springs High School.

This year’s Power Within took place inside Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa on April 19 and featured a breakfast ceremony attended by CIS’s case-managed students, site coordinators, volunteers and community partners to recognize the outstanding personal growth by honorees over the past school year. CIS site coordinators submit nominations for students who they believe have made leaps and bounds in achieving academic and personal goals despite any odds stacked up against them. 

“This event is both a celebration of one-on-one relationships and of the power of collective impact and community,” said Debbie Palacios, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Southern Nevada. “I feel immense gratitude to honor students, site coordinators, volunteers and community partners who believe in our mission. The vital work from our CIS champions is teaching our students to work hard, dream big and never give up.” 

About the Power Within Honorees: 

Elissa Diaz, 4th grader, Griffith Elementary School – Elissa started coming to CIS when she was in third grade. Struggling to overcome her shyness, which was affecting her ability to interact with other kids in the classroom, CIS site coordinator, Michelle Trujillo showed Elissa how to be confident in who she is while focusing on her education and making friends. Elissa has improved greatly since joining CIS, meeting and exceeding weekly math and reading proficiency goals they identified together as a team. Elissa demonstrates kindness and consideration to her peers and continues to be a role model and example for good behavior. Video:

Stephanie Martinez Villezcas, 8th grader, Jim Bridger Middle School – Stephanie came to CIS in 2022, looking for a friend and mentor to talk to about school and family life. CIS site coordinator, Breanna Aguilar, refers to Stephanie as a ray of sunshine and inspiration to those around her. Since Stephanie started coming to CIS, her self-confidence has improved and she is excited to start high school next year. Stephanie dreams of graduating high school and studying cosmetology. Video:

Dreshaun Harper, senior, Canyon Springs High School – Dreshaun has been coming to CIS for more than two years and has demonstrated leadership since then, overcoming challenges such as maintaining grades and finding himself in the wrong crowds. With the help of CIS and site coordinators including Jackie Puno and Jessica Cole, Dreshaun is graduating high school next month. He keeps himself grounded by practicing empathy and supporting other students who are struggling, staying busy as an active member of his school’s football team and is currently working on getting a driver’s license. Dreshaun is considering joining the Air Force or attending college.  Video:

The nonprofit also named Whitney Cole, a CIS site coordinator the Martin Serrano “Unsung Hero of the Year” for her unyielding commitment to bettering the lives and wellbeing of students at Western High School. Cole is a CIS program class of 2015 graduate who came to CIS struggling with chronic absenteeism and lack of mentorship. She only graduated high school with honors, but she also went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, crediting much of her success to CIS’ guidance and network of support.

Power Within recognized the following partners for their remarkable contributions to CIS and our students: 

  • Academy Teacher of the Year – Roderick Wade, Canyon Springs High School
  • Academy Partner of the Year – University of Nevada, Reno Extension
  • Corporate Partner of the Year – PLAYSTUDIOS
  • Principal of the Year – Mrs. Ronalyn Napier, Liliam Lujan Hickey Elementary School 

A special thank you to this year’s Power Within sponsors, Cox Communications, LBL Group and Anthem. As Bill Milliken, Communities In Schools founder says, “It’s relationships, not programs, that change children. Young people thrive when adults care about them on a one-to-one level, and when they also have a sense of belonging to a caring community.”

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