ENID, Okla. — A youth volunteer, 13-year-old Conner Quintero demonstrates what it means to be a leader in his community.
Quintero is an active teenager who devotes his time tosports, academics and the 4-H Youth Development Program. A four-year member of Garber 4-H Club, Quintero is involved in many aspects of 4-H, including public speaking, health and fitness, and civic engagement.
Through his 4-H civic engagement project area, Quintero volunteers with 4RKids, a nonprofit organization in Enid that provides support to youth and adults with disabilities.
At a young age, Quintero developed a passion for working with individuals with special needs. His mom was an elementary school special education teacher, and Quintero enjoyed tagging along and interacting with the kids in her class, he said.
Quintero also has a relative who has special needs, and he first learned about 4RKids when he participated in the annual Walk 4RKids with his family member. When he realized he could serve as 4RKids as a youth volunteer, Quintero said he jumped at the opportunity.
“When I learned I could volunteer with 4RKids, I was like of course I’m going to do that,” Quintero said.
Despite his age, his demeanor caught the attention of Tricia Mitchell, executive director of 4RKids.
“Conner is so confident, self-assured and helpful,” Mitchell said, “Since he has started helping at our events, we just have loved having him as part of our team.”
As a youth volunteer for 4RKids, Quintero assists with offering sensory-friendly activities and providing a fun, safe environment for children and adults.
Mitchell said Quintero is dedicated to the mission of 4RKids, and she has no hesitation letting him help with and lead events for the organization.
“He’s polite, courteous and respectful,” Mitchell said. “I would trust him just as much as I would any adult volunteer with working with these individuals.”
Connie Sturgeon-Hart, who serves on the board of directors for 4RKids, said youth volunteers like Quintero are vital to the organization.
“Youth volunteers interact with our clients in a way that show them they are going to be treated just like everybody else, and that’s so important for them,” Sturgeon-Hart said.
Quintero said helping with day camps, Enid’s Night to Shine and the annual Easter egg hunt are some of his favorite 4RKids activities.
“Just spending time with them really makes my day and my life way happier,” he said. “My goal is to make sure they have a safe place to go and to feel included.”
Quintero said participating in 4-H has equipped him with public speaking and leadership skills that expand to other areas in his life. Honing on his natural leadership abilities has given Quintero the initiative to take charge at 4RKids day camps and other events.
Sturgeon-Hart said Quintero’s determination to improve the lives of others is evident as he seeks more opportunities to expand the reach of 4RKids.
“He sees a task in front of him and just goes for it — whether it’s on the sports field or with 4RKids,” Sturgeon-Hart said. “He’s always at our events engaging with our clients and helping them to better themselves.”
Quintero said volunteering with 4RKids has taught him the value of making one’s community a better place.
“Helping my community is a big priority for me, and that’s also what 4RKids does,” Quintero said. “By volunteering with 4RKids, I’ve learned to give back to my community as a whole, not just with 4RKids.”
In addition to volunteering with 4RKids, Quintero has plans to start a new 4-H club called the FUN Club, which will focus on engaging youth in fitness, nutrition and personal development opportunities. He said he hopes to encourage other 4-H members to take part in community service projects, especially with 4RKids.
Quintero’s dedication to 4RKids has earned him the honor of being the 2020 recipient of the Oklahoma 4-H Catalyst for Change Award. This award, developed by the State 4-H Ambassadors, is designed to recognize the positive impact a 4-H member has made in their community.
With his award, Quintero will receive a $500 cash prize. Half of the award he can keep for himself and the other $250 will go toward a project of his choice.