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Segerstrom counselor nominated for the LifeChanger of the Year Award 2023-2024

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Image courtesy of Segerstrom Counseling Center
Mrs. Lara has been devoted for over thirty years to students.

Once a year, hundreds of educators and mentors apply for the “LifeChanger of the Year” award. Schools across the nation seek to win this award. The sponsors of this award are the financial service companies National Life Group and the National Life Group Foundation. The finalists and their schools will split a cash prize from $3,000 to $10,000. Segerstrom counselor Maria Lara has been nominated for LifeChanger of the Year.

Segerstrom previously had a LifeChanger of the Year recipient in 2019-2020. Adriana Huezo Ayala was one of fourteen nominees who won the award out of 855 submissions. The reward reflected her exemplary work as Segerstrom’s Higher Education Coordinator. Ms. Huezo’s previous experience highlights the long and arduous process of being a nominee.

“It is a national competition in which educators in different capacities can be recognized by their peers or their clientele. It’s a prestigious nomination that takes place. It takes a lot of work to be a nominee, and also for those doing the nomination on behalf of the nominee. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. From a professional standpoint, in terms of why this person deserves this recognition,” she says.

Ms. Huezo humbly encourages Segerstrom to show their appreciation towards Mrs. Lara. She also expresses her support for Mrs. Lara’s LifeChanger nomination.

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“I am so proud of Mrs. Lara. It is a long and overdue recognition. She’s been working in this district for over 25 years,” Ms. Huezo stated. “She is a strong leader within our department. She’s also a great student advocate and a great supporter of our work families. She’s always made sure that we are always thinking of the student first, but also taking care of ourselves [by] making sure we make time for ourselves and our families.”

Every nominee needs a moving nomination from a student, a staff member, or an administrator. In this case, Segerstrom counselor Beau Menchaca submitted the nomination on behalf of Mrs. Lara. This nomination is a reflection of his appreciation towards all of her dedicated work.

“I mean it’s like any type of nomination, you have to look at what they are asking for and try to make this into a human interest story. To me, I am so thankful that she is a part of my story.” Mr. Menchaca replied. “She is a mentor to so many of us, [and] she is a mentor to so many counselors across the district. I nominated her because she is a life changer for me and I know that she is a life changer for so many.”

Before transferring to Segerstrom, Mr. Menchaca was a 2015 LifeChanger recipient at Century High School, where he previously worked with Ms. Huezo and Mrs. Lara. And with high praise, Mrs. Lara has always been a mentor to Mr. Menchaca.

“She’s the gold standard when it comes to school counselors. A lot of us thrive to be able to be like her. She is the model.” Mr. Menchaca expressed. “And Mrs. Lara is good at knowing your story. Mrs. Lara is a national LifeChanger of the Year because of what she does for students. [She is always] student first, as well as [her] being a huge advocate/supporter of the educators on campus and the classified staff.”

As a message to Segerstrom’s students and staff, Mr. Menchaca asks for communal support for Mrs. Lara. A surmounting amount of positive comments impacts the likelihood of Mrs. Lara becoming recognized as a LifeChanger.

“What I ask from the Segerstrom community is to go to her profile, as people also post supportive remarks standing behind what I wrote. So we need a big showing of students, parents, and staff. Putting themselves behind our nominee. All that stuff helps her nomination and puts Segerstrom High School on the map. That’s what I am asking from the community to help us out.”

For the past 30 years, Mrs. Lara has been a counselor at multiple high schools. She follows a philosophy from former UCLA coach John Wooden, “Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.” This guides her to help students wherever they are. Mrs. Lara demonstrates an immense passion by spending time learning her students’ stories.

“I love stories because everyone is different. It’s important to know where they are coming from and to confirm whatever path they’re taking.” Mrs. Lara commented. “And I truly believe that you can get what you want. There is not only one way, [and] there are different ways to get there. Sometimes it may take longer than others because of their story, everyone has a different way of doing things. And we have to respect that.”

Her excellent methods derive from her compassion for others. Throughout the years, Mrs. Lara has mentored numerous counselors and has always been committed to students. She has used creativity and devotion every day when she helps strengthen others.

“I want students to have hope. I want them to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want students to give up. [They] are our future. I’ve been a lead counselor in the counseling department, and what I got from my mentor was to look at people’s strengths because we tend to look at people’s weaknesses.”

Outside of school, Mrs. Lara spends her time personally learning. She avidly studies to perfect her work as a counselor. And over time, she has developed sincere gratitude towards her colleagues.

“I am surprised [whenever] I get an award. Not because I don’t think I am a good counselor. I strive to be the best I can [be].” Mrs. Lara said. “And I don’t think we would get this far without everyone working together because I learned from them. I don’t think it’s a single person… I think it’s a team effort. I think that any time I get nominated, I often feel it should be the whole team.”

All in all, Mrs. Lara has always been a life-changer in the eyes of so many people. Her commitment is awe-inspiring, and it’s an honor for her to be nominated; to already have two LifeChanger recipients is part of what makes Segerstrom a great school. The deadline for Mrs. Lara’s nomination is December 8th, which means any Segerstrom student and staff member can post supportive messages before then. These responses can be as long as a paragraph or as short as two sentences. Recipient or not, Mrs. Lara should be recognized for all of her life-changing work.

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Joshua Vu, News Editor

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    BriannaDec 21, 2023 at 8:59 am

    Very informative and well-deserved nomination!

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