Teenage girl founded several clubs, including a Girls Who Code club at the Gilroy Library 

By Kelly Barbazette

Kelly Barbazette

Welcome to my first column highlighting a woman in a leadership role in South County. I’m very happy to introduce you to Clarissa Lara, a senior at Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy. I’m increasingly impressed with today’s young people. Determined and compassionate, they aren’t afraid to take on leadership roles in their schools and communities. Clarissa, 17, is no exception.

Clarissa’s enthusiasm for her community and causes close to her heart is palpable. She founded several clubs, including a Girls Who Code club at the Gilroy Library and an Acts of Random Kindness club at her school, and has conducted teen safe driving and passenger presentations.

When asked where her desire to help others comes from, she said, “I think it was something fostered in me in middle school. But in general, I like to say I have a bleeding heart. I feel a little too much. Sometimes my mom has to remind me, ‘Don’t hold the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s OK.’”

When Clarissa began taking computer coding classes at Gavilan College, she learned about the gender disparity in computer science. Currently, about 20 percent of computer scientists are women even though an equal percentage of girls and boys learn how to code when they are elementary school aged.

“Girls Who Code brings them back in and shows them they can become computer scientists,” Clarissa said.

She co-founded the club with her mom in 2018. The Gilroy Library provided a meeting room and computers where between 10 to 25 girls learned the foundations of computer science and coding. They met every Saturday for 10 weeks each semester.

GECA’s Random Acts of Kindness Club, launched fall 2019, has helped create and promote positivity in both the school and greater community, Clarissa says. Members brought in donations and put together goodie bags to give to the Gilroy Compassion Center. Other times, students separated into groups and helped the freshmen become oriented with the school.

Clarissa said one of her favorite experiences was at the Lord’s Table at St. Joseph’s Family Center where she helped set up tables and serve dinner.

“I really enjoyed talking to everyone and surprising people by talking Spanish to people there,” she said.

Fluent in Spanish, her first language, and English, Clarissa has started learning Japanese and created an American Sign Language Club at GECA. Additionally, she belongs to her school’s writing club and has represented GECA at the county’s Poetry Out Loud competition.

Her Saturday mornings are often spent on Zoom helping her cousins in Mexico practice their English.

She hopes to major in political science and public policy.

“I can see problems and gaps and I want to fill them. I want to write legislation that can help people in meaningful ways.”

Clarissa is glad she said yes to opportunities — from offering to give safe driver presentations to giving a speech her sophomore year, which ultimately led to her receiving youth and leadership awards.

“I think it’s important for people to reach for the opportunities that are there even if it’s optional.”

Kelly Barbazette, a former journalist for Bay Area newspapers, is a freelance writer. She lives in Gilroy with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at [email protected]

Guest Column