Michelle Fuentes-Miranda is the grandchild of migrant farmworkers who became successful business owners and community leaders in California’s Central Valley. Inspired by the spirit of service and entrepreneurialism demonstrated by her grandmother, Michelle founded Alliance for Community Empowerment (ACE) to help disenfranchised young people transform their lives and communities through leadership development, education, and civic engagement. ACE is an active participant in the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Skilled Trades Summers program. This past August, 11 ACE participants mastered key workplace and technical skills, spent one week on a solar installation jobsite, and earned high-value solar installation certification.
What do you love most about your job leading ACE?
I am grateful to lead an organization that provides a space of empowerment where our participants can receive the support needed to transform their lives and employees can live out their passions of enriching their communities. Our organization has positively impacted the lives of individuals and families that have once faced monumental challenges and who have overcome them and are now on a pathway to bright thriving futures. Additionally, I am proud to be a Latina that leads by example of how to break barriers, accomplish a dream, and empower others to do the same.
What were some of the most exciting take-aways from participating in the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Skilled Trades Summers program?
One of the most remarkable results we witnessed was the significant retention and engagement of trainees who historically have low engagement in education and have been negatively impacted by poverty. The Summer Solar program provided a counter-narrative to our students’ lived experiences that fostered a sense of belonging and empowerment. These types of initiatives in our communities allow our often-marginalized youth the skills, confidence, and hope that youth from more privileged backgrounds inherently have. Marginalized youth can envision and strive for a brighter future when given opportunities like the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Skilled Trades Summer program.
What advice would you share with other community leaders and educators about how to talk with parents about the value of learning a trade in high school?
I recommend that other community leaders and educators educate parents on the value students gain from exposure to skilled trades. Training at the high school level helps students explore various interests and develop skills that will make them curious about future careers, give them the confidence to try new things, and help them identify their strengths. Studies on childhood development have shown us that every child has a unique learning method and that post-secondary education is not necessarily suited for all learners. The high school years are safe for students and prime for development and growth.
If you had a magic wand, what new ideas or changes would you make to our youth development systems to help more young people thrive?
I would bring back mandatory trade/vocational training and life skills curricula that provide youth with the essential tools for being successful adults. Many adolescents do not have the privilege of having a family unit with the capacity to teach them how to conduct life tasks (taxes, cooking, hygiene, finances, etc.) or to expose them to various career options.
What is one quality you see in today’s youth that makes you hopeful for the future?
I am constantly in awe of how today’s youth hold steadfast resilience in the face of tragedy and societal pressures. Today’s youth continue to bounce back in the face of a pandemic, social media pressures, discrimination, poverty, and mass shootings, to name a few. At ACE, we support resilient young people as they break through life’s barriers that have held them back and the steps they take to make a better life for themselves. It is that resilience that makes me hopeful for the future.