Yulissa Hernandez, physically, isn’t very big, but she has big aspirations.
“I wanted to become bigger than what I was, and I knew that I could,” Hernandez said.
The junior at Holcomb High School was talking about her decision to run for Area 5 President of the Kansas Association for Youth (KAY), a character-building, leadership-training, service program directed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA).
Hernandez won the election and is using her experience to promote the importance of giving back, a central idea promoted by KAY.
She believes her generation is putting themselves ahead of others, but her infectious attitude of giving and helping others is something she hopes will help change all that — at least at her school.
“I love being a role model, I love showing people that we should be doing what’s best for others,” Hernandez said.
Despite a very full schedule, Hernandez somehow finds time to be active in several clubs at her high school. In addition to being a cheerleader and president of KAY club’s Area 5, which consists of 19 schools in 17 counties of southwest Kansas, she is also active in Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO), the National Honor Society (NHS), and Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)
“Honestly, I’m so blessed to be doing what I’m doing. I love being busy,” Hernandez said. “When I have free time, I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’”
Linda O’Sullivan is the sponsor of Holcomb’s KAY Club.
“Yulissa cares about KAY, and she’s got a lot of enthusiasm. So, even though she’s involved with a lot of activities, I think she’ll be able to carry out the responsibilities and do a good job,” O’Sullivan said.
As president of Area 5, Hernandez will be required to write three newsletters, outlining what the club is doing. She’ll also run Area 5 meetings, one of which is the KAY Leadership Camp in July.
Attending the camp last year is something she believes will follow her the rest of her life.
“They’re like, ‘If you see trash on the floor, pick it up. If you see an older lady struggling with groceries, help her,’” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said her school’s KAY club has held fundraisers for such organizations as the Emmaus House and UNICEF, and they have shipped coloring books and crayons to children in Colombia and helped provide live chickens to a village overseas.
Since becoming a member of KAY, Hernandez said she has tried to recruit anyone she comes into contact with at Holcomb High School, and, while there’s no way to tell if it was entirely Hernandez’s influence, O’Sullivan said membership in the club grew from 47 students last year to 65 this year.
“She helped recruit a lot of guys and her boyfriend was one,” O’Sullivan said. “And then some of his friends joined.”
Students in the KAY club develop attributes that can help them later on in life.
“They’re realizing the importance of service to others, how the smallest little thing can make a big difference to somebody, and that it doesn’t always have to done through huge money-making projects. It can be something real simple,” O’Sullivan said.
Hernandez believes what she has learned through KAY and the other clubs she belongs to will help her throughout her life. Her plans after high school are to attend Washburn University, Fort Hays State University or the University of Kansas, where she hopes to continue cheerleading.
She plans to major in nutrition and wellness and physical performance.
As for juggling her busy schedule, Hernandez gives a lot of credit to her parents, Rosa Rivera and Israel Hernandez.
“I’m not the type of person who stresses or freaks out. I’ve got my agenda, and I’ve got my mom and my dad, and I’m good,” she said, laughing. “ They keep me sane.”
She also believes she wouldn’t be able to do any of the things she does without a little help from above.
“God keeps me sane too. My faith is big with Him,” she said.