UHV Student Volunteer of Year creates change in herself, community

When Alma Gutierrez opened an email that let her know she was the 2019-2020 University of Houston-Victoria Student Volunteer of the Year, she froze and had to make sure she was reading it right.

Alma Gutierrez

“I didn’t even know I was nominated,” Gutierrez said. “I just remember feeling really proud because this was me finally making my first mark here at UHV.”

When she initially enrolled at the university, the Austin native didn’t immediately commit to joining student organizations. It wasn’t until her junior year that she decided to get involved.

“I told myself that I needed to start doing more than just the bare minimum – to not repeat the past – because when I do the minimum, I won’t grow,” she said.

Gutierrez, a biology major, created the Green Club, a student organization focused on climate change education and advocacy. The club strives to establish a new normal by encouraging others to recycle, upcycle and decrease their overall dependence on plastic.

During the school year, Gutierrez also committed her time and talents to the UHV Community Garden and JP’s Market, a student food pantry for UHV and Victoria College students that provides free, anonymous resources to combat food insecurity.

“I loved giving a helping hand even with the smallest things, such as handing out flyers, setting up tables or just showing support to other events and organizations,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez got to see the power of volunteering firsthand when she worked with children during the summer of 2019 at the Boys and Girls Club.

“At the beginning of the summer, there was always this trend of saying, ‘Oh, Miss Alma, cleaning up the park is so boring. Oh, Miss Alma, why do we have to deliver meals to the elderly in this hot bus? Can’t they just cook?’” she said. “In other words, these kids didn’t think outside of their own world.”

But during that summer, Gutierrez and the children learned to love giving back. The experience “planted a seed in all of us,” she said.

Gutierrez thinks volunteering softens the heart and the soul, opening doors for both the volunteers and the impacted individuals.

“Volunteering is important because it reminds me that I live in a world with others, not in a world that revolves around me,” she said.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Victoria Hudgeons, Special to UHV