The Quest to Make Big Change in Portland, Texas: Q&A with Ethan Garza

When it comes to making big change, the route to change can come from myriad angles. Community leaders don’t have to be defined by age and years of service to a town. Serious social change can come by way of school-aged do-gooders just the same. For Portland, Texas’ Ethan Zuriel Garza, the impetus of making big change came by way of a school project. Upon collecting intel from area physicians, the Portland High School senior took to the internet to figure out what he could do to help educate and combat the incidences of skin cancers related to UV exposure from the sun – something that plagues the wellbeing of the citizens of Portland, Texas each and every day. What he found? Make Big Change. What he did? Took action.

The following is a conversation between Make Big Change and Garza in his quest to serve up some betterment for his community, both in school, and about town.

MBC: How’d you learn about Make Big Change?

Garza: Where I live, it’s common to find someone within my community who has received treatment for some form of skin cancer. As I was also apart of Medical Explorers, I discussed with my local physician on this topic. He had told me that if you lived in Portland your whole life, you’re bound to have some form of skin cancer. To find out details to tackle this problem, I looked to the web for guidance. I am fascinated about anything that happens in Boston as my dream college resides there (MIT). Boston is truly an amazing city with astounding people. I was fortunate enough to visit Boston the summer previous to my junior year in high school, and I was simply awestruck by how active the community truly is. Thus, I was introduced to Make Big Change and was provided with all the information to make a worthy presentation to my fellow classmen.

MBC: What led you to engage with Laurie Seavey, Make Big Change’s Executive Director?

Garza: As far as getting the project started along with making it possible, I am a part of a group from my school known as Y-LEAD. We were funded from a business near our town known as Cheniere. They sponsored the group for us to play an active role in improving our community. Individually, we came up with ideas that we later voted on as a group to determine which projects were worth pursuing.

I was ecstatic to get started with such a hectic upcoming school year, so I started as soon as I could to ensure that this project would become a reality. I’ve never done a project of this magnitude in which I would plan the details, and follow through with them. It was exhilarating to be able to see it all become a reality. I contacted Laurie Seavey at first to get a quote for Y-LEAD and make sure that the estimate was within our budget for the projects we wished to accomplish. Afterwards, I contacted Laurie Seavey to continue the project into fruition. She’s amazing! She was always reachable, polite, and more than willing to answer any questions that arose. I am honored to have been able to work with such an amazing person.

MBC: Tell us about your project? What was the scope? What were your goals?

Garza: My primary goals when thinking of a project to present to my group were the following: pursuing a project that was well within the budget as we pursued a few projects, and having a project that would be effective for my community.

The group as a whole had decided on three projects: modern water stations/fountains, a garden for our local nursing home, and bringing sunscreen dispensers to Portland! Everybody decided which projects they wished to work on, and I took this project on as a solo mission (not by choice).

MBC: How many dispensers did you purchase/install?

Garza: We plan on installing six sunscreen dispensers around the city and two within my school. Five are currently installed while the others are scheduled to be installed soon.

MBC: Where did you install dispensers?

Garza: The locations at around my city are as follows: public aquatic center, local soccer complex, municipal park (local park undergoing renovate construction), Sunset Hike & Bike trail (for running and observing/preserving wildlife), Indian Pier (Main local fishing area), and a sports complex that includes softball, soccer, baseball, and early age football. The two in my school will be installed in the band hall, and sports building that most athletes pass through since it’s by their locker rooms.

MBC: What good do you hope comes of them?

Garza: I hope to make the people in my growing town aware of the dangers of the sun along with providing some form of protection. Many people within my community spend a large amount of their time outside, and the sun is unforgiving.

MBC: What is your own personal philosophy in regard to sun safety?

Garza: I apply sunscreen when I plan on spending large amounts of time outside (anything more than 30 minutes at a time). Ex. marching band rehearsals, going to the beach, chilling at parks with friends, etc.. I wish everybody would be aware of sun safety. We live in a scorching climate, and each little bit we spend outside adds up quick. I hope less people experience sunburn, and are able to enjoy going outside for activities and not question how bad their tan(line) is going to be.